“When I was 16, my 17-year-old boyfriend told me that if I didn’t get an abortion he would kill me,” Aimee Murphy, the 26-year-old executive director and founder of Life Matters Journal, said last week at a #WomenBetrayed rally on Capitol Hill. “It happens all the time… Women are coerced to have abortions, to go through this whole heart wrenching process.”
Murphy traveled from her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last Thursday to participate in the event, which aimed to put pressure on Congress to pass a budget that does not fund Planned Parenthood. There’s a possibility of a government shutdown on the horizon if lawmakers can’t agree how the organization’s funding should be factored into a deal.
Abortion opponents have been going after Planned Parenthood for months, ever since the release of several undercover videos that accuse the group of illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. But Thursday’s rally focused on defunding Planned Parenthood specifically in the context of framing abortion as a feminist issue.
Members of #WomenBetrayed, a pro-life coalition, spoke about the traumatic experiences they endured at Planned Parenthood facilities. GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and Live Action president Lila Rose were also featured speakers at the rally. They all spoke about their position in terms of women’s rights.
According to Murphy, “the central tenement of feminism is equality for human beings regardless of sex, gender, orientation, race, religion,” and that concept should extend to unborn children. “To devalue the preborn life simply because of their location or of their dependency is an act of discrimination,” she said. “In what good society does improving one side of human rights involve harming and causing violence to other human beings?”
The “women-against-abortion” concept is a strategy the pro-life community has been using for decades to frame restricting abortion as a feminist issue. Anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List and Feminists for Life have been guided by this framing for more than 20 years, saying that women “deserve better” than abortion. More recently — particularly after the 2012 election became dominated by the “war on women” narrative that pitted male legislators against women’s reproductive rights — this perspective on abortion has been a key way for conservatives to push back on the idea that abortion is being restricted against women’s will.
“Planned Parenthood is profiting from [women’s] pain and that’s what we’re standing up to,” said Lila Rose, who founded Live Action when she was just a teenager and has been working to discredit Planned Parenthood for years, said at the rally last Thursday. “This is the war on women that’s happening at Planned Parenthood and now it is being perpetuated on Capitol Hill. We will not stop fighting until every one of these children are protected and until Planned Parenthood is defunded and Capitol Hill hears our cry.”
The women from #WomenBetrayed told their their personal stories of Planned Parenthood to the rally crowd of about 100. A common theme in their stories was the social pressure they felt to have an abortion, leaving women feeling powerless and voiceless in their decision. “Abortion hurts women. We will bring about a culture of love and a culture of life, where no women in her right mind would choose abortion,” one of the female speakers said at the podium.
The scientific evidence doesn’t back up many of these assertions. There’s isn’t much data to support the idea that a lot of women are getting “coerced” into abortions and, among the women who are, experts agree that it’s better to find policies to address the root causes of the abuse rather than to restrict access to abortion. Reproductive coercion also works in the other direction, as abusers sometimes control their victims by forcing them to get pregnant so that having a child will connect them more closely together.
On top of that, while women’s experiences with abortion are often complex and inspire a range of emotions, research shows that more than 95 percent of women who have abortions don’t regret the decision. Research from the University of California, San Francisco found that one week after having an abortion, the majority of women feel relief.
Nonetheless, the latest controversy swirling around Planned Parenthood has given abortion opponents an opportunity to make the feminist pitch again. Although there’s no evidence that Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation practices have broken any laws, congressional Republicans say they’re prepared to go after the organization’s funding anyway.
“Planned Parenthood is not pro-women,” former Alaska governor Sarah Palin said at Thursday’s event. “Planned Parenthood berates women via the actions that they engage in.”
Federal funds given to Planned Parenthood are not allowed to go toward abortion, thanks to the decades-old Hyde Amendment that restricts taxpayer dollars from funding abortion services. Instead, the group’s federal money goes toward providing family planning services to patients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to pay for them. Stripping federal funding from the women’s health organization could have very serious consequences for the low-income women who disproportionately rely on Planned Parenthood clinics.
An agreement between lawmakers on both sides of the abortion issue must be reached quickly. A vote on the funding bill that may include a provision to defund Planned Parenthood must happen before the end of this fiscal year.
Jess Colarossi is an intern at ThinkProgress.