Monday, January 25, 2016

Planned Parenthood: part of the establishment?

In a recent interview with Rachel Maddow, Bernie Sanders announced that he is "taking on the establishment." This would not have been that shocking, or even really newsworthy, except that in doing so, he implied that Planned Parenthood is part of the "establishment."

Both Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood were quick to respond via Twitter.

Sander's comment came shortly after Planned Parenthood officially endorsed Hillary Clinton. This is the first time Planned Parenthood has ever endorsed a candidate in the presidential primary. Technically, the endorsement is from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF).

PPAF is a non-profit, which is and is not separated from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). While PPFA is the system of healthcare clinics around the country, PPAF works on public education, advocacy, and electoral activity to support the mission of Planned Parenthood. However, many people just believe both of these organizations are one group, and that draws a lot of criticism from both opponents of choice and those deeply committed to choice. To further complicate the relationship, Cecile Richards is president of both organizations.

Many reproductive justice organizations led by women of color have expressed frustration and disappointment with the political agenda of Planned Parenthood and it's lack of support for smaller, more grass-root organizations. Additionally, many small, independent women's health clinics often feel it is difficult to compete with Planned Parenthood, which has become a household name synonymous with birth control and abortion access. And now, we have a presidential candidate condemning Planned Parenthood for being part of "the establishment."

Should the organizations be separated? Is Planned Parenthood a part of America's political problems?

While I see the frustration organizations may have with Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood also bears the brunt for contraceptive and abortion access. It is a well-established organization (although not without demons in its closet) and the integration of PPAF seems vital to the survival of not only PPFA, but all women's health clinics. There may not be many other large health organizations with a specific political action team, but there are also no other healthcare providers that face as much opposition as Planned Parenthood.

Just today, Planned Parenthood made headlines when a Texas grand jury cleared all allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood and instead indicted David Daleiden (from right here in Davis, CA) of the Center for Medical Progress on felony charges of tampering with governmental records. However, the Planned Parenthood video scandal was only one of countless attacks on Planned Parenthood and the women it serves. Just this past year, there was the Colorado clinic shooting and four arson attempts on Planned Parenthood clinics. 

Whether or not you agree that Planned Parenthood should have a political action team, what is more important is that Planned Parenthood's clinics continue to provide their services to countless citizens that depend on them. Bernie Sanders's negative affiliation of Planned Parenthood with the "establishment" that he wants to take down was most likely just an ill-spoken comment. However, as many Americans are more familiar with Planned Parenthood as a local health clinic than a political machine, his words have the effect of bolstering even more hostility against a national organization that has worked for years to protect women and women's health. Going forward, it would be preferable to see more transparency from both Planned Parenthood and political candidates as to what area of the organization they are referencing.


Sonja said...

Your blog post and the Vox article raise some complicated issues about this campaign that I've been feeling as a potential Sanders-supporter. Primarily, it does seem like a big misstep for Sanders to group HRC and Planned Parenthood together as part of the establishment. For one, to quote Jesse Berney, "We can separate PP and HRC. PP is a critical provider of health care fighting for its life. HRC is a milquetoast org that avoids big fights." HRC's history of sexism, racism, and transphobia ( can certainly be considered reminiscent of "the establishment." But Planned Parenthood's stellar advocacy and on-the-ground support for women's health cannot be overlooked. Certainly, Bernie committed a gaff by linking the two together.

That said, a part of me understands where Bernie was coming from when he made his comment. To some extent, it seems like there is nothing Sanders can do to be seen as a viable candidate in the media's eyes. Not only is Clinton in the DNC's pocket (certainly the DNC is the establishment), but Sanders has also been greatly overlooked by major media outlets as a viable candidate, and his supporters have been classified as old and radical or young and radical. I certainly do not believe he is the perfect candidate, nor am I sure he has my support, but I do find the fact that the political process has been almost predetermined somewhat upsetting and antithetical to democracy. Clinton and Sanders have both made mistakes, hopefully, they will both be given an opportunity to overcome them.

Amanda said...

Your post, and Bernie's identification of Planned Parenthood as "the establishment," reminded me of an Inquisitr article (found at the bottom of this comment). The article criticizes Hillary endorsements from Planned Parenthood, the HRC, and Naral. My reaction to the article was that it made some big assumptions about why these organizations decided to endorse Hillary, and in the process, dismissed any legitimate reasons why progressive (or feminist) organizations might endorse her.

All of this political infighting reminds me that there's no one voice of feminism nor agreement on the most important issues facing women. Political absolutes -- like only Bernie, or conversely, only Hillary, can represent the interests of women -- seem to miss the complexity of feminist issues.

RC said...

My primary reaction to Sanders' comment more or less coincides with what you said here: "[H]is words have the effect of bolstering even more hostility against a national organization that has worked for years to protect women and women's health." Not that Planned Parenthood couldn't benefit from some reflection and improvement, but this in-fighting in the Democratic camp only piles onto the recent hostility against Planned Parenthood. That being said, I'd be interested to see what would happen if Sanders gets the Democratic nomination - would he amend his anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric? Would he take it back? Clarify it? Sanders has been known throughout his campaign as being ideologically consistent (at least more than others), but I can imagine that it would hurt more than help in this case. We'll probably be more unified as a party once the Democratic candidate is chosen, but it will be interesting to see if reinforcing such unity will force people to change their tune for the sake of harmonizing a more cohesive party platform.

RM said...

Both Courtney and RC expressed concern that Sanders’s statement would “have the effect of bolstering even more hostility against a national organization that has worked for years to protect women and women's health.” My initial reaction to his statement was the opposite in that it undermined his credibility rather than Planned Parenthood’s.

On Sanders’ web page, under the “Issues” section for “Fighting for Women’s Health, it states:

“We are not going to allow the extreme right-wing to defund Planned Parenthood, we are going to expand it. Planned Parenthood provides vital healthcare services for millions of women, who rely on its clinics every year for affordable, quality health care services including cancer prevention, STI and HIV testing and general primary health care services. The current attempt to malign Planned Parenthood is part of a long-term smear campaign by people who want to deny women in this country the right to control their own bodies.”


So, I was rather confused by what he meant when he categorized Planned Parenthood as part of the establishment. It also made me wonder, if he would have said this if Planned Parenthood had endorsed him, instead of Clinton. I don’t think he would have — so does that mean the “establishment” is anyone who doesn’t endorse him? While I think we should all be careful not to over analyze or give too much weight to single, isolated, statements made by candidates under media pressure, I will be paying more attention to how Sanders uses the “establishment” framework moving forward.

Since my initial reaction was that the statement would hurt Sanders’ reputation more than Planned Parenthood's, I would love to hear more about Courtney and RC’s concerns about the effect on Planned Parenthood. I certainly hope that this statement does not increase hostility to Planned Parenthood, so I would appreciate you both sharing your concerns and perspectives with me.

On another note, as Amanda reminded us, there are “legitimate reasons why progressive (or feminist) organizations might endorse her [Clinton].” Certainly reproductive health is only one issue, but it is an important one. Here is a link to an interesting table Planned Parenthood put together to highlight why they are endorsing Clinton in this election.