By Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon
National Right to Life Education and Research Director
On its website, Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion chain, not only bills itself as “the nation’s leading sexual and reproductive health care provider,” but also adds “and advocate.”
It is not a minor or unimportant add-on. Yes, Planned Parenthood is the nation’s biggest abortion provider, responsible for about 330,000 abortions a year, more than a quarter of all abortions in the U.S. But through its various lobbying and political action groups, Planned Parenthood is also a leading player on the political and legislative fronts, helping to keep the politicians in office who thwart pro-life legislation and keep abortion legal.
This article examines a fawning story written about Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards that appeared in the March 26, 2012, edition of The Nation called “The Genius of Cecile Richards” (www.thenation.com/article/166670/genius-cecile-richards).
Written by Karen Mitchell, it tells us a great deal about PPFA’s growing political muscle and how it exploits social media. As such it is a very useful primer into one of the key pro-abortion political actors and a reminder that pro-lifers must also use social media to its maximum potential.
Back in 2004, shortly after taking the helm of PPFA, Richards noted that her organization had more members, employees and staff than the fifty state Democratic parties combined. She bragged,
“We have the potential to swing the vote in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and that’s a lot of power. The question is, What are we going to do with it? And the answer is, We’re going to use it. We’re going to marry our current reality as the largest reproductive healthcare provider in this country with our opportunity to be the largest kicka** advocacy organization in the country…”
It was not an idle promise. Planned Parenthood endorsed John Kerry for president in 2004 and went on to spend $3-$4 million on political activity. Volunteers in “battleground states” knocked on doors, made phone calls, and mailed out literature. The group ran ads on television to identify, register, and get sympathetic voters to polls. Nearly 20,000 new voters were registered in Oregon alone. When Kerry lost, they attributed it to the candidate’s failure to articulate his position on abortion and family planning well.
Fast forward to the next election. Richards, whose previous jobs include being Nancy Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, toned down her language but doubled down on her intentions, saying “We aim to be the largest kick-butt political organization” and launched the One Million Strong Campaign to get a million “pro-choice” voters to the polls by phone banking, direct mail, and going door to door.
Fast forward again—to Mitchell’s story. She identifies the pivotal moment in the 2008 campaign as Planned Parenthood’s 2007 summer policy conference, at which Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth Edwards (the then-wife of John Edwards) all showed up to speak. We’ll pick up the article at that point.
“Planned Parenthood endorsed Obama (only the second presidential endorsement in its history); he returned the favor in conference calls, White House meeting invitations and a promise to veto the budget bill if it defunded Planned Parenthood. When hammering out a compromise for the Catholic bishops on contraceptive coverage this year, Obama placed three phone calls – one of them to Cecile Richards.”
(Of course, the “compromise” was nothing of the sort, which is why Catholic and Protestants and others have filed multiple lawsuits.)
No wonder that Mitchell identifies Planned Parenthood as “a political force on the rise.”
There are several other things pointed out by Mitchell that bear attention.
She notes both similarities and differences between Planned Parenthood and ACORN, which Mitchell describes as “also a potent electoral force for Democrats.” ACORN shut down in November of 2010 for a whole host of reasons that need not detain us here.
Mitchell notes that the newly registered voters like the ones brought in by ACORN–“people of color, young voters and unmarried women who hadn’t been organized in significant numbers”–were critical in making up the majority that elected Obama in 2008. She asks, “Guess whom Planned Parenthood serves and whom they can activate through their political arm?” Mitchell writes
“’There was always this sense that Planned Parenthood had extraordinary potential because of the organization’s credibility earned through being there, doors open, on the ground in so many communities, being a trusted provider of really intimate medical care,’ says Samantha Smoot, the Planned Parenthood political and field director for the 2008 campaign. In other words, you might listen to the Sierra Club for advice on the best candidate to vote for, but the Sierra Club wasn’t in your bedroom last night. Planned Parenthood sees 3 million patients a year. The group officially claims more than 6 million activists, donors and supporters nationwide who can be contacted for political work.
“What’s more, under the new healthcare act, Planned Parenthood can be a Medicaid provider, which will likely increase its reach by several million. The organization’s recent efforts, directed by Richards, to put information on birth control and sexually transmitted disease, and even contraception refills on its website attract 33 million visits a year. All those clients are potential pro-choice voters and canvassers. That’s where Cecile Richards’s power can really be understood. As a lifelong organizer, she knows how to convert bodies into voters, into activists.”
Richards told The Nation that after their public funding came under attack, Planned Parenthood gained “hundreds of thousands” of new supporters, 1.3 million in 2011 alone, with half of those under the age of 35. “These are not just people who have fought for choice all their lives.” said Richards. “ They’re young people. Fresh legs.”
One thing that Planned Parenthood developed for 2008 with a group called Catalist was a national voter file. Mitchell describes it this way:
“Thanks to this tool, every woman voter in the country has a score between one and 100 indicating her likelihood to be pro-choice, and there is a way to reach her. It’s an efficient way to mobilize pro-choice women to vote or even persuade them to canvass for Planned Parenthood-endorsed candidates”
Richards intends to be no less aggressive in the 2012 campaign. Mitchell quotes Richards as saying
“Because we have so many supporters…we use every new technology for folks to take action from their homes, to contact their representatives, to do block walking. We have seen an explosion in social media for Planned Parenthood. Women are too busy to focus on politics. They are too busy particularly in this economy. They don’t have time to watch TV or follow politics. But they are on social media. Women listen to other women. And they listen to Planned Parenthood. And this will be the silent majority, but it will be a majority of voters in 2012, all of whom communicate with each other with less traditional means, but through a very powerful network.”
Pro-lifers, we have our work cut out for us.
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