Portland Press Herald: Personal stories mark Portland rally

The rally comes just before an Oct. 1 deadline for Congress to pass a spending bill that could include stripping the women’s health organization of public funding. Read full article on PPH website.

One by one they stepped forward, mostly women but also a couple of men, to talk about their experiences with Planned Parenthood, and why they think the women’s health organization is worth fighting for.

Cathy Breen, a state senator from Falmouth, said she grew up in a family where conversations about sex, safe or otherwise, “never happened.” When she needed women’s health information, she turned to Planned Parenthood.

Jennie Pirkl, an organizer with the Maine People’s Alliance, said she first sought out Planned Parenthood at a time when she didn’t have health insurance and needed birth control to help reduce pain from her endometriosis.

“It was there for me and it needs to be there for my daughter,” she said.

Denna Metzler, a former patient, said people tell her she’s brave to talk about the abortion she had a few years ago, a medical procedure she said was possible only because of Planned Parenthood.

“My story is only brave because the stigma is so great,” she said.

An estimated 350 people, most wearing pink, flooded Portland’s Monument Square on Tuesday to support Planned Parenthood, an organization that has come under fire in recent months after anti-abortion activists released a series of undercover videos.

Those videos, which depict Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue that is used in research, have reignited the debate over abortion rights and have threatened the organization’s public funding stream. Some have called for an end to the funding even though no federal funds are used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s health is at stake, abortions account for about 3 percent of all services that the organization provides, and polls have shown that most people support funding Planned Parenthood.

The rally in Portland was one of dozens held around the country on the eve of an Oct. 1 deadline for Congress to act on a funding bill that some Republicans had wanted to strip of funds for Planned Parenthood.

On Tuesday, it appeared as though the U.S. House and Senate would approve a so-called “clean” funding bill that keeps funding intact, but some Republicans and social conservatives believe the fight over defunding Planned Parenthood is worth shutting down the federal government. They may revisit that strategy in December when the proposed temporary spending bill runs out.

Sara Gideon, a state representative from Freeport and the assistant Democratic House leader, said Tuesday that it’s a shame to see “women’s health is being used as a political football.”

“A person’s health is not for sale, it’s not for trade and it’s certainly not available for blackmail,” Gideon said.

Stephanie Small, a nurse practitioner for Planned Parenthood, spoke about the privilege of providing care for women and not letting “a few white men” interfere with that.

Diana Lee, a former Planned Parenthood patient, current volunteer and mother of teenage twins, said, “I wanted to model for them the importance of speaking out against bullies.”

The rally drew one anti-abortion protester, who carried a large sign with graphic images of fetuses. Planned Parenthood supporters responded by forming a wall around the man and holding up their own signs.

Abortion was legalized by the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade in 1973, but debate over the practice has not abated in the four decades since.

Republicans and social conservatives try each year to further restrict access to the procedure, and some states have passed laws that make it more difficult to obtain an abortion.

The recent release of a series of videos, made by an anti-abortion activist group called the Center for Medical Progress, has given critics more ammunition and has prompted calls to eliminate the roughly $450 million in annual federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Most of that funding is in the form of Medicaid reimbursements.

Officials and supporters have defended the organization and have decried the videos as heavily edited and misleading. So far, investigations in several states have found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood, but other state investigations are ongoing.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards appeared before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday to face a barrage of questions from Republican lawmakers.

Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said critics who attack the organization are “on the wrong side of public opinion, on the wrong side of public health and on the wrong side of history.”

Even if the battle over Planned Parenthood’s funding doesn’t shut down the federal government, it has already provided fodder for Republican presidential candidates, particularly those courting the votes of social and evangelical conservatives.

Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the Republican race, has been especially forceful in her condemnation of the video footage that has been released. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood and was the lead opponent of the fight over the Affordable Care Act in 2013 that led to a two-week shutdown of the government. He has continued to argue in favor of shutting down the federal government to defund Planned Parenthood.

Both of Maine’s senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, have voted against defunding the organization. Rep. Chellie Pingree, Maine’s 1st District congresswoman, also voted against defunding, while her counterpart in the 2nd District, Bruce Poliquin, voted in favor.

At the rally in Portland on Tuesday, some wondered why a battle that should have been settled decades ago is still being waged.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said he was a junior in college when the Roe v. Wade decision came down.

“I naively thought the issue had been settled,” he said. “We’re here to make sure what was decided 42 years ago is not rolled back.”

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