Spurred by a Vividly Remembered Past, Planned Parenthood Fights for its Future 

"We cannot allow our children and grandchildren to have fewer rights than we do today."

Rebecca Poedy-Gibron (left), chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands; and Hannah Brass Greer (right) PPGNH chief legal counsel.

George Prentice

Rebecca Poedy-Gibron (left), chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands; and Hannah Brass Greer (right) PPGNH chief legal counsel.

Advocates for a woman's right to choose hope Idahoans have clear memories. Take March 2012, for example, when anti-abortion activists invited the mostly male, mostly old, mostly white Idaho Legislature to listen to "voices from the womb" while they performed a live ultrasound inside a Statehouse hearing room. Or January 2015, when a series of deceptively edited "sting" videos from anti-abortion activists claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to sell fetal tissue, a scandal that ultimately ended with those behind the videos being charged with criminal conspiracy. And then there was March 2015, when the Idaho Legislature pushed through a law requiring women to get an exam and counseling from a physician before being allowed to purchase the chemical abortion drug RU-486. That same year, in September, arson damaged a Planned Parenthood office serving the Moscow/Pullman region. In March 2016, the legislature passed another measure, this time requiring Idaho doctors to give women seeking abortions a list of ultrasound providers, including so-called "crisis pregnancy" centers that vehemently push against abortion. And in July of 2016, no fewer than 27 members of the Idaho House and Senate demanded to know how much Idaho's Medicaid program was shelling out for abortions, only to find there were just two in a three-year period, with the state paying $108.

Then came the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, when the nation woke up to learn that Donald J. Trump had been elected the 45th President of the United States. What followed was a steady stream of attacks on abortion rights, some through appointments and policies, and even more from across Trump's bully pulpit. As a result, anti-abortion activists have never been busier, particularly at statehouses like the one in Boise.

"But here's the thing: An overwhelming majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade. I think it's 65 to 70 percent that want to keep abortion access safe and legal," said Rebecca Poedy-Gibron, chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands.

Indeed, a new poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News indicates that 71 percent believe the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. should not be overturned. Supporters of the ruling include 88 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans. It's a near-record high. In 1989, a Gallup poll showed that 58 percent of voters supported safe access to abortion. But supporters of the ruling hope people who still haven't made up their minds on the issue will think back to the time before 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down its historic decision.

"If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, it certainly wouldn't stop abortion in the U.S., it would stop access to safe, legal abortions," said Poedy-Gibron. "Think of that for a minute. Let's say that this was left up to the states. That basically means that only people with financial means would be able to travel to another state for an abortion. We can't go back to a time when women were dying from self-induced abortions. That really wasn't too long ago in our history. So, to be sure, we're going to fight this confirmation with every fiber of our beings."

"This confirmation" refers to the pending battle over Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative-leaning judge who is President Trump's choice to be seated on the U.S. Supreme Court and succeed retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a pivotal vote in 1992 to uphold Roe v. Wade as the law of the land.

"We take Trump at his word that Brett Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade," said Jennifer Allen, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii. "This nomination puts Roe v. Wade in jeopardy."

Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing is expected to heat up in the coming months, just before this November's general election, when Americans will go to the polls to vote on a third of the seats in the U.S. Senate and the entire U.S. House of Representatives.

"That's why this fall's midterm elections are so important," said Hannah Brass Greer, PPGNH chief legal counsel. "If supporters of abortion rights can hold the line, Trump will need to compromise to find a nominee that will pass the test of whether or not Roe v. Wade will be safe."

But don't think for a moment that Planned Parenthood's lone battlefront is Capitol Hill. Tougher skirmishes are mounting much closer to home.

"Complications"

In mid-July, Planned Parenthood partnered with the ACLU of Idaho to fight against a new Idaho law that, effective July 1, requires abortion providers to list so-called "complications" that supporters claim are linked to abortion.

"There are things on that list now, such as failure to show up for an appointment or even breast cancer, that have nothing to do with abortion," said Greer. "This is another attempt by Idaho politicians to shame and stigmatize people seeking abortion care and to spread the myth that abortion is dangerous. This law is unconstitutional and should be struck down."

Another new law passed by the 2018 Idaho Legislature and effective July 1 now mandates that women seeking an abortion be told about something called "abortion reversal." Supporters said that after a woman takes the first of two medications for an abortion, she can be administered the hormone progesterone to "reverse" the procedure. But both the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposed the measure.

"There is no such thing as abortion reversal," said Poedy-Gibron. "Our biggest objection is that they're giving people information that is not medically sound, putting them at risk.

For the record

Despite their opponents saying otherwise, Planned Parenthood officials remind the public that abortion is only one of a very long list of health care services that it provides. In the past 12 months, more than 8,600 patients have walked through the doors of Planned Parenthood's health centers in Boise, Meridian and Twin Falls.

"And for the record, a vast majority of those patients are coming to us for wellness care, gynecological exams, breast exams, birth control, or testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections," said Poedy-Gibron. "We see people from all demographics, all walks of life. We serve the insured, the uninsured, the underinsured and indigent patients. And we're growing. We don't see any slowdown in the number of patients any time soon."

Planned Parenthood has also officially begun a new service: gender-affirming hormone care. Officials said the greatest demand for the new service, which went into effect this June, came from the Magic Valley.

"Our first five patients were all from Twin Falls," said Poedy-Gibron. "I think a growing number of insurance carriers and employers want to be able to offer coverage for this to their workers."

This move into new territory solidifies Planned Parenthood's mission to serve an every-diversifying population and look toward the future as opposed to the past, particularly 1973 and the decades before it.

"Generations of people have grown up only knowing a country where they have the right to access safe, legal abortions," said Allen. "We cannot allow our children and grandchildren to have fewer rights than we do today."

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