During an interview in her downtown office last week, Betty Cockrum, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, hazarded a guess that most NUVO readers would support of her organization's work.
"But," she added, "are they registered to vote?"
It is a question of central importance to Cockrum because in the 10 years she's worked for PPIN she has watched "confounding," "infuriating," and "frustrating" forces align to undermine her agency's work based on medically indefensible and fiscally irresponsible theories.
She understands the sanctity of life — after all, advocating for reliable pre-natal care is a core aspect of her organization's mission — but her central question to people demonizing PPIN is, "What about quality of life? Why is an unborn child more important to you than the two year old?"
Years have passed since she last asked an opponent that question directly. She still remembers the answer: "'Betty, what we care about is the pre-born.'
"... And they absolutely meant it," she said.
This attachment to the pre-born, meaning the life that is formed at the moment of conception, is "not just about abortion anymore," Cockrum said. "It's about birth control and quite frankly, it's about Planned Parenthood."
Part of HB2010, the bill passed by the 2011 Indiana General Assembly that attempted to defund Planned Parenthood, also inserted language establishing the life-at-conception concept into the "informed consent" statement that doctors must read to women before performing abortions in this state.
This opens the door for attacks on birth control methods that prevent implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus wall; an extreme interpretation of that position would hold such methods as murder, Cockrum said.
"People have been having sex outside marriage since the beginning of time and women have been figuring out how to terminate pregnancies since the beginning of time," she said. "The reason Roe v. Wade finally happened was because those justices heard from those doctors who said 'Please make it stop, this maiming of women and women dying because it's not legal.'"
Her efforts to provide state legislators in the GOP-controlled General Assembly with expert medical testimony and crucial public health statistics fall on deaf ears.
Despite the lack of any medical evidence to submit on behalf of the position that a fetus might feel pain before 20 weeks of development, lawmakers passed a bill insisting that a doctor performing an abortion must read a statement to the patient contending that it might be true.
As lawmakers focus their legislative priorities on the unborn, Indiana's most vulnerable children are suffering and dying every day. In 2009, 16,198 children were suspected or confirmed victims of abuse or neglect. That same year, 50 children died of abuse, according to the Child Welfare League of America.
If the anti-Planned Parenthood end-game is achieved, if they are pushed out of providing abortions or pushed out of business all together, would that mean victory for the state? That depends on how one defines victory. To Cockrum, such a scenario would mean "there would be fewer abortions, there'd be more dangerous abortions, more tragic outcomes, more Medicaid-covered births, more pregnancies, more poverty."
And a higher bill for taxpayers.
"The average pregnancy through delivery costs $8,000," Cockrum said. "For Medicaid-covered births, the average cost is $11,000." She noted rapid successive pregnancies, substance abuse issues and substandard or nonexistent prenatal care as factors in driving up costs.
Some people take offense at even considering the cost of a baby, but to those who vote as fiscal conservatives, she asks: Do you care about the half a billion dollars in taxpayers' money paying for more than 50 percent of births in the state? Do you care that the average cost of those pregnancies is 37 percent more than the average privately paid comparative?
"Some days it's smaller government that we want, other days it's bigger government that we want," Cockrum said. "I get really confused."
Despite the fact that PPIN receives no state funding, a lawmaker introduced a bill to prevent such a transaction from ever happening. Despite having no clear definition of what an adequate line of separation between abortion services and all other PPIN services would be, opponents continue to insist the existing accounting structure is inadequate and decry the use of taxpayer money to support anything PPIN does.
Even total separation of abortion services under another entity's guise will not appease opposition's reach, Cockrum said.
"There's been language filed in other states where if you even make a referral for an abortion you could be defunded," she said. "So you're sitting at the Julian Center with a 21-year old with three kids, and she's seven weeks pregnant, and her eyes are black, and she's bruised and beaten, and her little kids are afraid, and she's living in a shelter, and you can't tell her that one option is to terminate the pregnancy or you'll lose your funding?"
The refusal to acknowledge how unplanned and unprepared-for pregnancies fuel poverty, suffering and death infuriates Cockrum, and it stokes her passion to protect the rights her organization's foremothers risked jail to provide back in 1932.
The fight comes in ceaseless waves.
U.S. Congressman Mike Pence, who pushed defunding initiatives at the national level, is campaigning to be elected Indiana governor. On May 21, he nominated State Rep. Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand, as his running mate. She co-authored the defunding bill in the Indiana House of Representatives.
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