Step one: Anti-woman organizations.
This is where it starts, with extremist organizations run by extremist activists. They lobby, they recruit, they fundraise, they spread false information from disproven studies, they threaten and intimidate—and sometimes they resort to heinous acts of violence and even murder
Operation Rescue is the perfect example of such an organization. Its founder, Randall Terry, openly supports terrorist tactics and shamelessly cheers the assassination of doctors. While the organization long ago forced Terry out, its current senior policy advisor, Cheryl Sullenger, was convicted of attempting to bomb an abortion clinic, for which she served two years in federal prison.
One of the organization's primary activities is to manufacturer false evidence to "prove" that its enemies are engaged in criminal activity, by such loathsome methods as offering $10,000 rewards for "information leading to the arrest and conviction of abortionists." Once the organization has accumulated enough "evidence," it harasses lawmakers, law enforcement agencies and even the courts to launch investigations based on this false evidence.
When these investigations inevitably fail to lead to convictions, the organization declares it a miscarriage of justice and damns the entire justice system—accusing everyone from elected officials to judges—of conspiring to protect a widespread criminal racket. When that message resonates with the organization's most radicalized supporters, the consequences can be deadly. Dr. George Tiller, a women's health provider in Kansas, was gunned down in his church by a self-appointed vigilante who believed Operation Rescue's rhetoric that the acquittal of Dr. Tiller was such a miscarriage of justice that he was compelled to take matters into his own deadly hands. While Operation Rescue denounced the violence after the fact, it was indisputably complicit in ginning up the outrage that inspired Dr. Tiller's assassin to act.
For years, such "pro-life" organizations have targeted the Komen Foundation for its relationship with Planned Parenthood, insisting that Komen was funding abortions (it never has) and that such funding is antithetical to Komen's mission to fight cancer because "abortions cause cancer"—a claim that numerous studies have proven completely false.
Such organizations and their supporters are the first line of offense in the War on Women.
Step two: Anti-woman politicians, legislation and investigations.
It is not merely radicalized organizations who have a clear anti-woman agenda; many of their supporters hold elected office at the state and federal level. Before Karen Handel was employed by the Komen Foundation, she ran for governor of Georgia as a "staunchly pro-life" Republican and vowed, as part of her campaign platform, to defund Planned Parenthood. You think she abandoned that mission once she was hired by Komen? Fat chance.
Phill Kline, the former Kansas state attorney general, is another perfect example. When he was elected, he devoted his office's resources to investigating Dr. Tiller, based on false accusations and "evidence" accumulated by anti-woman organizations, as referenced above. He was, in fact, so focused on his mission to see Dr. Tiller imprisoned that he engaged in numerous ethical violations and disobeyed court orders—all to carry out the agenda set by the anti-woman organizations to punish those who provide health care to women.
Last year, we watched an unprecedented number of attacks at the federal level as well. When Republicans took control of the House, they immediately set about trying to defund Planned Parenthood. They passed bill after bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Some even threatened to shut down the whole government until Planned Parenthood was defunded.
They repeated false information, provided to them by anti-woman organizations (see Step one, above) about the "risks" of abortion (there really aren't any) and the primary purpose of Planned Parenthood. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona famously proclaimed that abortion comprises 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's services, even though the actual number is about 3 percent. Planned Parenthood's primary services are focused on contraception, STD testing and treatment, education, and—ahem—cancer screening and prevention programs. It is also the nation's largest provider of health care to low-income women.
When Kyl was challenged to provide evidence of his assertion, his office claimed that his "fact" was "not intended to be a factual statement."
That, however, did not stop the anti-woman extremists in Congress from continuing to wage war on women's health care, and in September of last year, Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood's practices, determined to prove that Planned Parenthood was illegally using federal funds for abortion. The investigation was not based on any evidence whatsoever, but instead on the claims of such organizations as Operation Rescue, who insist that women's health clinics must be engaging in illegal activity because ... well, because. That's why.
While the House legislation failed in the Senate, and President Obama threatened to veto any such bills that landed on his desk, anti-woman legislators vowed to continue their efforts to shut down Planned Parenthood. Republican presidential candidates have also made such threats part of their platforms in this year's election. The debate about whether to fund the nation's largest provider of women's health care is now front and center in our national political discourse.
Step three: The circle begins again.
While last year's failed legislation means the federal government continues to fund Planned Parenthood's non-abortion health care services, the Komen Foundation used Rep. Stearns' investigation to justify defunding Planned Parenthood's cancer screening and prevention programs. Jeffrey Goldberg published a devastating article
at The Atlantic
, describing how the foundation's new policy was created explicitly for the purpose of cutting off Planned Parenthood funding:
But three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut off Planned Parenthood. (Komen gives out grants to roughly 2,000 organizations, and the new "no investigations" rule applies to only one so far.) The decision to create a rule that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to these sources, was driven by the organization's new senior vice president for public policy, Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who is staunchly anti-abortion and who has said that since she is "pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."
The article goes on to explain how, according to former Komen employees and internal memos, discussion had quietly been in the works for some time about how to terminate the foundation's relationship with Planned Parenthood, while trying to avoid the PR disaster that would (and did) follow. The foundation even hired Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush and long-time opponent of Planned Parenthood, to consult on the best way to implement and spin the politically motivated anti-Planned Parenthood agenda without appearing politically motivated.
Meanwhile, anti-woman organizations and politicians, such as Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), celebrated the new policy as a victory for the "pro-life" movement. Vitter took credit for the decision, boasting that he had been pressuring CEO Nancy Brinker since last year to do exactly what the foundation did this week: cut ties with Planned Parenthood.
Komen's capitulation to anti-woman activists, both outside and within the organization, was clearly the result of (a) the steady campaign by activists to discredit Planned Parenthood as a valuable resource and provider of women's health care; (b) the pressure by elected officials, such as Sen. Vitter and Rep. Stearns, to defund Planned Parenthood by any means necessary; and (c) the flimsy "investigation" launched by Stearns, providing the final hook the foundation needed to rationalize its decision.
Further, anti-woman organizations are now citing Komen's decision as evidence that even a "non-political" organization identifies Planned Parenthood as an unworthy and illegitimate provider of women's health care. You can certainly expect to see this decision cited in the future to further discredit Planned Parenthood, pressure lawmakers to investigate it, and then, when such investigations fail, use the "outrage" to radicalize their already-radicalized supporters to take matters into their own hands. Just as we witnessed with Dr. Tiller in Kansas.
We learned many valuable lessons this week: that the Komen Foundation is not worthy of the support and money of those who genuinely believe in health care for women; that even when legislation fails, the actions of legislators can have serious consequences; and, most importantly, that we must remain vigilant in protecting women's health.
Meteor Blades described some of the necessary steps we must take to not only protect women's rights, including the right to health care, but how we can go on the offense against those who wage the War on Women. To fight back and win, we must direct our energy and resources to all of the following: electoral engagement, grassroots political organizing, promoting and expanding science-based education, supporting and founding women's health care clinics, and fighting for a "progressive reproductive choice agenda" that includes "universal health care, the availability of affordable child care, paid family leave and other workplace support."
It's a lot of work, and it isn't easy.
But it is what we must do to ensure that the anti-woman forces throughout this country and our government do not win their War on Women.
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