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For Women’s Groups, It’s All About the Planning

CHARLOTTE—The logistical gods were not kind to Planned Parenthood on Tuesday. The organization had plans for a major rally at lunchtime, near the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But a few minutes before the rally was supposed to begin, organizers diverted participants to an intersection about six blocks away. Only then it turned out the rally was back at the Hall of Fame—and inside the convention’s secure perimeter. By the time Georgetown activist Sandra Fluke spoke, between 200 and 300 people had made it through security. The rest, many of whom didn’t have the proper credentials, had to wait three blocks away, wilting in the heat and shouting across a police barrier at conservative counter-protesters.

But rallies, like conventions, are for the faithful. And I’m not sure the faithful are Planned Parenthood’s target audience right now.

The most ubiquitous sight on the streets of Charlotte this morning were the pink shirts that Planned Parenthood’s volunteers were wearing. The shirts said nothing about abortion rights, even though that’s the cause many if not most people associate with the group. Instead, they said “2012: Yes We Plan.” And the “O” was in actually a circular pattern of dots that looked just like a case for oral contraceptives.

The shirt was consistent with the rally, or what I heard of it. The speakers spoke about the availability of birth control, breast cancer screenings, and other reproductive health services under the Affordable Care Act. They talked about efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in Texas. (The mention of Governor Rick Perry’s name provoked the loudest boo’s I heard.) One woman, Cynthia Wilson from Dallas, told the audience Planned Parenthood "saved my life," because they provided free medical screenings while she was uninsured and discovered a cancer that might have been fatal.

Ironically, the only time I heard about abortion was earlier in the day, at breakfast meeting for delegates from the AFL-CIO. Dick Collins, a retired New York teacher living in Las Vegas, told me abortion rights was among the issues he considered most important. He siad he was old enough to remember when abortion was illegal—and that he knew two women who had botched abortions in Canada. One of them, he said, died from complications.

Planned Parenthood isn’t abandoning its commitment to abortion rights. But birth control may be a more potent political issue—one that allows the group, and its allies, to portray Republicans extremist.

Republicans and their allies are not happy about this. They claim that Democrats have falsely accused them of trying make all contraception illegal. And the Republicans have a point: they clearly haven't tried to reinstitute bans on contraception, something the Supreme Court made illegal many decades ago. 

But Republicans have done a bunch of other things. They have voted to cut funds that provide family planning services for the poor. They have voted to repeal a requirement in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to offer insurance that includes contraception coverage. And more than a few — including Paul Ryan – have supported “personhood” amendments that, depending upon the interpretation, might interfere with access to intrauterine devices and the use of in vitro fertilization.

That makes them vulnerable. And it looks like groups for reproductive rights, such as Planned Parenthood, hope to exploit that.

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