There was a whole lot of hooting and whooping in downtown New London today as about 50 supporters of Planned Parenthood, all in pink t-shirts and holding signs saying “I stand with Planned Parenthood,” stood at the corner of Bank and State Streets, encouraging people to honk in support of women’s reproductive rights.
Judging by the almost unanimous response from passing drivers, they’re not standing alone. Organizer Gretchen Raffa of Planned Parenthood Southern New England couldn’t have been more thrilled. “This is the perfect demonstration. There are people of all ages, all genders. To see this outpouring of support, to see how important Planned Parenthood is to people,” said Raffa, pausing to gain control of her emotions, “I was not expecting this amazing turnout.”
Planned Parenthood may have a lot of support locally but the rally in New London was one of many held on Saturday to protest a lack of support at the federal level. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the federal budget that would eliminate the Title X family planning program and bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds of any kind, including Medicaid.
To be clear, the proposal to stop funding Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with the politically controversial issue of abortion. “It’s not about abortion,” explained Rep. Betsy Ritter (D-Waterford/Montville) who, as a longtime Planned Parenthood supporter, attended the New London rally. “Federal money now can’t be used for abortions. This is funding for basic health services from Planned Parenthood … annual examinations for women, screening for breast cancer.”
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England serves more than 63,000 patients in Connecticut every year and 90 percent of those services are preventative. That includes 35,000 breast and cervical cancer screenings, and more than 100,000 STI and HIV tests a year. Many of the people Planned Parenthood serves have limited incomes—one third of Planned Parenthood’s Connecticut patients have Medicaid insurance—so the people most directly affected by federal cuts will be those who can least afford it.
As House Chair of the Public Health Committee, Ritter is concerned that losing federal funding for women’s healthcare will have wide ramifications statewide. The amendment, which has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, will be taken up by the Senate next. Accordingly, on Friday Ritter held a press conference at the Capitol to announce that state legislators are calling for Connecticut U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal to oppose the amendment.
“Personally, I’m very sorry to see basic health services for women be used as a political football,” said Ritter. “This has a direct impact on health services for women. It puts a definite strain on health services and puts the onus back on the state at a time that is, quite honestly, very difficult.”
New London High School student Siete Levey, 18, is also concerned that cuts to Planned Parenthood’s funding may result in a rise in sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy rates among teens who have limited means and options. “Some schools don’t provide sex education. Some parents don’t either,” says Levey, a peer counselor for Planned Parenthood’s Students Teaching About Responsible Sexuality (STAR) program, who attended the rally. “Kids can come to us if they have questions about STDs and birth control.”
“We want them to know that Planned Parenthood is a safe place to come to and that everything is confidential,” says Shadell Pickett, 17, another STAR counselor at New London High School who went to the rally. “We don’t judge.”
That’s a message that young men need to hear too, says Daquan Miller, 17, another STAR counselor at New London High School. “They’re scared of being judged,” Miller says. “I think [birth control] is equal responsibility. I don’t think they [other young men] see it the same way. I’m trying to change that.”