“Have you seen the new video? Just came out today…the trafficking of body parts? Really not a good thing to support.” The stranger’s tone was one of fatherly admonishment. One of my fellow interns slowly raised her sign and looked questioningly behind her.
“Nothing,” we were reminded. “We don’t engage at all.”
It was unbearably hot and sticky, the way DC tends to be in July, so we were gathered under a little bit of shade near the south entrance to the Capitol, sweaty, uncertain, trying to fan ourselves with our signs or tugging at our bright pink t-shirts. I kept feeling the gaze of everyone who passed and wishing I wasn’t a blusher.
“Something they like to yell is like, ‘does your mother know you’re here? I’m going to call your mom,’” Edwith, FMF’s campus organizer, was saying. “Just ignore them.”
“It’s like, ‘do it, she’d be really f-king proud,’” said Rachel, who was the one who had raised her sign at the man who yelled at us as he passed.
The latest in a series of heavily doctored videos by the anti-choice organization the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) was released the morning of July 28, the day that anti-choice organizations were set to protest Planned Parenthood locations nationwide. There isn’t a DC chapter of Planned Parenthood, so we were at the Capitol, on the grass, passing around sunscreen and stickers (KEEP ABORTION LEGAL): the Feminist Majority Foundation interns, the National Organization for Women interns, a few staff members for both organizations, and Terry O’Neil, the president of NOW. As we waited for our permit to arrive, my anxiety mounted.
The careful planning, funding, and execution of recent attacks against Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides a wide variety of women’s health services for a wide variety of women (abortion making up only 3% of these services) made me nervous. All anybody could talk about were those videos. “Did you see the video?” A blonde woman in running shorts would ask us repeatedly, later in the day, almost pleading. “Please, girls, watch the videos.”
It was the same question we’d be asked as we were leaving, crossing the street to get a taxi back to the office, by a woman holding one of those violent, hyperbolic sonogram posters we’ve all seen a thousand times.
There was a reason for it all. Those videos, despite being debunked and fact-checked over and over, matter. They represent a calculated movement to defund Planned Parenthood and cut back on reproductive rights across the country, a movement with funding and traction, and even though Terry wasn’t worried (when a reporter asked her how concerned she was about Planned Parenthood losing federal funding, she gave him a 0 out of 10), a lot of us were – and are. 40% of female college students use birth control. If schools don’t provide these resources, students turn to Planned Parenthood.
At one point, a jogger ran by and pumped her fist. “YEAH!” We cheered her and she sped off around the path. Everyone perked up instantly. Even I, busy dwelling on the dirty looks, the expanding crowd, and the children whose curious faces were being turned away from us, felt a little better. Terry began to teach us some chants, resolute and optimistic.
Why should young people care about the smear campaign threatening Planned Parenthood? Standing there, red-faced, I knew all the answers: because calling yourself pro-life while defunding women’s health resources is a massive contradiction. Because it’s offensive that a downright lie could become a law. What should be obvious is that nobody thinks of abortion as pleasant; nobody really wants to get one. But sometimes, they are necessary, and most importantly, they are a right. Just like all of Planned Parenthood’s services – which 1 in 5 women will utilize during her lifetime.
As we left, the voices on the microphones fading in our wake, the woman in running shorts called after us, at Terry: “You’re manipulating young women!”
At that, I didn’t blush. In fact, it was the first time all day I felt anger take the lead. I was angry at her false concern, and at the sheer irony of her words. After all: petitioning Congress to dictate each woman’s healthcare decisions, and by extension, sexual decisions, life decisions? Attempting to limit the options of young women, and doing so by making false claims using false evidence?
That’s manipulation. And we should all care about stopping it in its tracks, especially when women’s health care is at risk.