According to Betty Cockrum, president, Planned Parenthood Indiana, “We’re here because ours are important issues. With the recent teen pregnancy and single mother statistics in Indiana, I think it’s just that much more important to be here and educate lawmakers so they can make informed decisions about sexual and reproductive health.”
Each of the women sought an audience with the legislators in order to remind them of Planned Parenthood’s mission to protect, provide and promote reproductive health services for women in Indiana.
Squeak Wiltrout of South Bend hoped to speak with Reps. Ryan Dvorak and Patrick Bauer.
She had her opportunity moments later as Bauer made his way through the crowd and towards the chamber doors.
Though Bauer did not stop to listen to Wiltrout’s message, he did graciously shake her hand and accept her extended invitation to a Planned Parenthood Open House later in the week, all the while walking backwards to retreat behind a closed door.
In addition to lobbying for a small share of a rapidly decreasing state budget, advocates attended the event with growing concerns that abortion rights might be compromised in the next legislative session given the campaign promises, pending bills and historical record of the candidates who won office recently.
Ball State graduate students Tracy Ksiazak and Katherine Johnson were first-time lobbyists who credited the recent elections for spurring their activism.
“I just wanted to get more involved. The results of the election made me more interested in making sure women’s voices are heard,” Johnson said.
For Ksiazak the reasons for attending were similar. “ I want to protect women’s rights — the right to choose, but also the right to affordable health care.”
The last time Republicans controlled all three chambers of Indiana state government, they passed several pieces of controversial legislation, including a bill based on the premise that Roe v. Wade does not guarantee a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
Pending legislation in Indiana includes Senate Bill No. 134 requiring all health care providers to inform pregnant women of the availability of ultrasound imaging and auscultation of a fetal heart tone before performing an abortion.
Another bill gives pharmacists the right to refuse filling any prescription that calls for medication resulting in the termination of a pregnancy.
Still pending in the Indiana Court of Appeals is a suit disputing the constitutionality of a law requiring women to receive in-person counseling at least 18 hours before obtaining an abortion — a change from the legislation that previously allowed medical personnel to mail the information to the patient or read it to the patient in the course of a phone call.
A recent article in the New York Times following the election listed Indiana as one of the states most likely to attempt repealing all abortion rights.
Though pro-choice politics are at the center of Planned Parenthood’s agenda and reputation, Wiltrout hoped to emphasize that abortion services are only a small fraction of the assistance Planned Parenthood provides.
“When people think of Planned Parenthood,” Wiltrout said, “too many think only of abortion. But our mission is to actually make abortion unnecessary through education.”
Forty Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the state provide quality health care and information on sexual health to over 125,000 men and women each year.
Ninety-five percent of the patients who come to Planned Parenthood seek gynecological, birth control or sexually transmitted disease assistance. Only 5 percent seek abortion services.
More than 85 percent of these patients are without health insurance or qualify for federally subsidized health services, and an equal number of these women classify their ethnicity as white.
Given the high demand for their services and the growing concern about their viability, Planned Parenthood sees its visibility campaign as just the beginning in its efforts to protect women’s rights this political season.
As advocate Josephine Coleman explained, “I support Planned Parenthood’s efforts in this state and I think they’re going to be under fire, under attack this year. I’m here to do what I can to stop that from happening.”