Former president of Planned Parenthood sounds off on the future of reproductive health
Some states like Connecticut and New York, where abortion is legal, are grappling with an influx of women in need of reproductive health care. This comes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer.
WSHU’s Desiree Diorio spoke with Gloria Feldt, the former president of Planned Parenthood, about the future of abortion rights with the midterm elections just two months away.
Feldt co-founded Take the Lead, a nonprofit that promotes gender equality in leadership. She will be the keynote speaker at its annual Power Up conference to be held virtually August 25-26.
WSHU: Gloria, one of the narratives that came out of the Dobbs decision which overturned Roe v. Wade, is that states like New York and Connecticut where abortion is legal are going to see an increase in women traveling here to get abortion care. Is that happening? And are they set up infrastructure-wise to handle an influx?
GF: We’re seeing a very huge influx of people and the states are not set up for that. They're not really ready for it. I would say New York is probably more ready because for quite a long time, it has been more of a haven. I know that Connecticut has recently passed a safe haven kind of law and is preparing itself very thoughtfully to make sure that it can accommodate women who are traveling to Connecticut for abortion services.
WSHU: How should states prepare?
GF: Think about being a woman who is already frightened and in some kind of traumatic situation. Probably without significant financial means. Possibly with another child or two in tow — you know, the majority of women who have abortions already have children. They're probably worried about leaving a job for how many days, not able to go to work. So they're in all kinds of stress and duress, and then they have to pack up and go to an unfamiliar place and navigate it.
So the abortion funds — and again New York has been the leader in this and I think other states will be learning from New York — the abortion funds are working very hard to make sure that they can help smooth the path for those women so that they have resources, funding, places to stay and can get the quality of medical care that they need and deserve.
WSHU: Recently, we saw the first test on state abortion rights. Voters in Kansas rejected an amendment to their state constitution that would have said there was no right to an abortion there. What does that mean for other states that might want to try a similar ballot initiative?
GF: We're literally living in two parallel universes. There is one universe in which women are considered equal partners, equal citizens with equal rights, with the ability to control and have autonomy over their bodies, the ability to be able to plan and space out their childbearing, the ability to literally have an equal place at life's table.
And then you have another universe in which women are chattel, in which people seem to think that women do not have the brains, the heart or the consciences to be able to make their own childbearing decisions.
So you have to step back and realize where we're living in those two different universes. For the most part, people don't think about it because they have become accustomed to having the right to make their own childbearing decisions free of government interference. They just poo pooed everybody who said, ‘You know what, this could happen.’ Well, it happened.
Now what we're seeing is that people are waking up and they're realizing, ‘Hey, this could be me. This could be my daughter. This could be my wife.’ So we’re going to see this play out now on a broad national stage, state by state. But really, it's much bigger than that. It's really an existential crisis, as it were. It's asking Americans to decide, ‘Are we going to have gender equality or are we not going to have gender equality in this country?’
So you have to wake people up. People will not vote on this issue unless you wake them up and they realize this could be you.
WSHU: There were a number of ballots in Kansas where voters only voted on that amendment. That was a primary election — the governor was on the ballot, there were other elected offices on the ballot — but some people only voted on the amendment.
Does that suggest to you that people are waking up?
GF: It tells you that for the first time — maybe ever — the issue of reproductive rights and justice is front and center in elections. Usually in polling you’ll find it's way down at the bottom of the issues that people care about. Right now, the issues people care about are, first of all, the economy or inflation and secondly, abortion rights. That has never happened before.
So people are awake. People are paying attention. The other big lesson from Kansas — huge lesson from Kansas — is that they organized. The results of elections don't just happen. The winner is always the person or the issue that is best organized. That means good old retail organizing, knocking on doors, writing those postcards, picking up the phone, talking to your friends, talking to your family, helping people get to the polls, making sure that there are no impediments to people being able to vote. So that's the real lesson of Kansas: you can win this, but only if you organize.
WSHU: You founded Take the Lead, a nonprofit to boost women in leadership positions. What role do you want to see women in leadership play now that people are paying attention to reproductive health?
GF: I would particularly like to see all the women who are now in executive positions and positions of various kinds of economic and social power, to stand up and speak out and make sure that their their organization's policies are supporting women and are not supporting the politicians who want to take away our right to make our own childbearing choices.
That is something that was not the case 50 years ago, when Roe was decided. The reason Roe was decided based on the right to privacy had a lot to do with the fact that the court hadn't even taken up gender equality issues at that time. So they relied on the right to privacy.
And now there's much more legislation, there's much more law that is based in gender equality as a civil right.
Because of the work that we did, because of the right to birth control, because of the right to choose abortion, women have been able to get educated, they have been able to finish their education, they have been able to have careers, they have been able to reach a certain level of equality in society. Those women need to stand up and speak out because they would not be there if they hadn't had those rights. And if they let those rights go, their daughters and their granddaughters will be back to the way it was — worse than the 1950s.