Gloria Steinem Celebrates Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s 80th Anniversary
An affirmation of women’s rights as human rights
With the theme “Rise Up, Be Visible,” an estimated 1,300 Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin supporters and feminist icon Gloria Steinem celebrated the state chapter’s 80th anniversary and the national organization’s centennial.
“We want you to be visible. We want to be visible,” Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein told the audience. “And we hope that all the men and women who have benefited from the reproductive rights that Planned Parenthood has espoused will be visible with us.”
Planned Parenthood, founded in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1916 by Margaret Sanger, launched in Wisconsin with one “maternal health center” in Milwaukee in 1935. The Wisconsin chapter has since grown to 21 health care centers that provide reproductive care, cancer and STD screenings, birth control, sex education, pregnancy testing and safe and legal abortion services. One in five women have used Planned Parenthood services for their health care.
It hasn’t been a smooth path. Although our culture is becoming more sex positive and new, effective and easy forms of birth control are available, in recent years social conservatives have tried to reduce women’s reproductive freedom and attack Planned Parenthood.
Nationally, the Guttmacher Institute found that 27% of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since Roe v. Wade made abortion legal nationwide in 1973 occurred in the five years spanning 2010-2015. The researchers chalk it up to the 2010 wave election that swept conservative abortion opponents into power in state capitols around the country.
Like many of his fellow Republican lawmakers, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defunded the organization, created additional barriers for abortions and has promoted religious pregnancy crisis centers that attempt to deter women from getting abortions.
Since Walker’s taken office, six Planned Parenthood clinics in Wisconsin have closed.
On the campaign trail, Walker bragged about being “100% pro-life,” meaning that he wants to totally outlaw abortion, including those for survivors of rape, including incest, as well as to save the health or life of the pregnant woman.
And at one point earlier this year, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have an abortion. He’s since softened his position but is still anti-abortion.
But the anti-abortion Republicans may have overplayed their hand.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a Texas law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and refused to hear an appeal of a similar Wisconsin law, signed by Walker, mandating those admitting privileges. Walker’s crackdown on abortion providers isn’t being enforced in Wisconsin. And pro-choice Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is beating Trump in national and state polls.
Via video, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards noted the attacks on the organization by conservative politicians and applauded the Wisconsin staff and supporters for continuing to provide high-quality health care despite many obstacles.
“Our mission and motto is ‘Care, no matter what,’” Richards said. “And that means not just that every person has a right to reproductive health care, but that every person has equal access to care. To get there, we have to change the culture around reproductive health so that no one is ashamed of being themselves and building the life they want.”
Steinem: ‘The Government Doesn’t Get to Decide’
At the anniversary luncheon, Gloria Steinem encouraged the audience to continue to advocate for women’s reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right.
“I think if we were just to look almost mathematically what is affecting the largest number of people, first it would be the achievement of reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right, like freedom of speech or freedom of assembly,” Steinem said.
She said she’s working toward the affirmation of what she calls “bodily integrity,” or the right of all individuals, regardless of gender, to make decisions about their bodies.
“It’s all about bodily integrity, it’s all about the fact that we, whether we are female or male, have the right to decide what goes on inside our own bodies,” Steinem said. “The government doesn’t get to decide. Nobody else gets to decide.”
Milwaukee-based artist Niki Johnson was presented with the 2017 Voices Award in recognition of her sex- and politics-charged artwork, including her “Eggs Benedict,” a portrait of Emeritus Pope Benedict created out of condoms. [Correction: Johnson won the award for her "Hills and Valleys, her newest artwork, not for her previous work.]
At the Planned Parenthood celebration, Johnson unveiled her newest piece, “Hills and Valleys,” an image of a woman’s torso made out of signs from shut-down Planned Parenthood centers and mirrors from Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts store that successfully argued in front of the Supreme Court that it shouldn’t have to provide birth control coverage for its employees. Johnson used the mirrors to create an image of a “vajazzled” U.S. Capitol.
“Reproductive rights are an American tradition,” Johnson said.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin used the anniversaries to rally supporters ahead of the November election. Over the weekend, volunteers knocked on 3,228 doors statewide to talk to voters about their endorsed candidates, including Clinton and Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold.