Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawai’i and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky are the non-profit, nonpartisan organizations educating residents and policymakers about reproductive care in their respective states (Washington, Alaska, Idaho, and Hawai’i, and Indiana and Kentucky).
They do this work by advocating for public policies that guarantee the right -as well as full and non-discriminatory access - to sexual and reproductive health care, comprehensive sexuality education in schools, and a social and political climate favorable to the exercise of these rights free from judgment.
As we celebrate the end of 2020, let’s take a moment to look closer at the important advocacy work of Planned Parenthood Votes across the six states, and what they have planned for this year.
This past year, Votes shifted away from many of their strategies which relied heavily on in-person community engagement, such as door-knocking and face-to-face voter contact, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, “COVID-19 dealt a hard blow to our work at the very beginning of the pandemic, as we were mid- legislative session [in March],” Jess Cler, Alaska State Director for PPVNH explained.
However, “we have a creative and adaptive team, and we were able to adjust to virtual methods quickly,” Cler said, citing strategies like virtual phone banks, personalized post cards, relational organizing with family, friends and neighbors, and a text message campaign that included over 200,000 messages sent to voters.
Going forward in the New Year, “the Votes team is doing communications, hosting events online, filling volunteer shifts, dropping off literature to households, running text and phone campaigns, and sending massive quantities of mailers,” said Jennifer Allen, Votes CEO. “We were able to launch, and are in the midst of, the largest digital campaign our organization has ever produced.”
“I’m really proud of everything the team has been able to accomplish this year,” Allen said.
Cler noted that much of Votes’ campaign work for the past year has been defensive, due to an overall increase in anti-choice legislation – she cites a hostile political administration that has emboldened opponents.
“Often times, harmful anti-choice bills are couched in confusing and obfuscating language. Much of our work is to educate people,” she explained.
Votes fights these battles in all states, even those with pro-reproductive health legislatures and governors, such as in Washington and Hawai’i.
“Advocates for reproductive health must be ever-vigilant even in so-called ‘liberal’ states,” said Allen.
For example, in the 2020 election, Washingtonians again rejected efforts to rollback statewide sex education standards by voting to approve Referendum 90, but “these types of anti-sex ed, anti-choice pieces pop up again and again,” said Cler.
Over the past year, a great deal of Votes’ time and resources were spent fighting anti-choice and anti-sex ed legislation.
Allen confirmed that 2020 was one year in which defense was most often the position Votes found itself.
But even in the most adverse circumstances, Planned Parenthood must push forward.
Allen stated Votes’ main priorities in the year ahead are to undo “harms like the gag rule and harm to the Title X program, advance reproductive health access, and work on national standards for Medicaid that recognize birth control as essential.”
Expanding birth control for everybody will be an effort carried over from 2020.
Cler explained, that currently “in many of our [state] legislatures, we have been working on a bill that would require insurance and Medicaid to cover birth control 12 months at a time.”
“Having a 12-month supply versus refilling a prescription every month would reduce barriers to patients and would increase proper usage, which improves effectiveness,” Cler said. “We’ve seen this because it’s something we’ve successfully passed in Washington and Hawai`i, and we’ll continue to work on it for the rest of our states.”
Expanding access to reproductive health care – making it available to as many people as possible - is part of Planned Parenthood Votes’ mission. During a pandemic which reduces many peoples’ access to care, stemming from things such as reduced income from unemployment and reduced availability of medical appointments, Votes prioritizes any opportunity to put health care within reach of more people.
This is why Votes continues to fight so hard to expand birth control coverage through private insurances and through Medicaid.
Expanding access to reproductive health care is a key goal across the six states, though the battles are different for Votes in each.
In Kentucky, reproductive health care rights and access have seen some significant victories recently – most notably the renewal of Planned Parenthood’s state license to practice abortion – but Kentucky also had a large number of anti-choice, anti-sex ed, and anti-LGBTQ bills introduced.
In both Indiana and Kentucky, Votes anticipates even more proposed anti-choice legislation for 2021. They will continue with a defensive strategy, while still prioritizing the expansion of telehealth and expanding access to birth control, abortion, and other critical care.
Votes also faces a hostile governor and a hostile senate in the state of Idaho, where anti-choice sentiments are strong in the legislature. Votes’ top priorities in Idaho include Medicaid expansion, fighting physician assistant restrictions, and playing all-around general defense for abortion rights.
In Alaska, Votes faces both a hostile governor and a hostile senate, and a sensitive situation with the state constitution – which protects abortion access.
“We did have some wins in Alaska – we won some key seats and turned over some districts after doing some deep organizing,” said Jennifer Allen.
Allen expressed concern for proposed budget cuts in Alaska that will “affect everything from health care to transportation,” again creating more barriers to reproductive health care access to people in the state.
In the northernmost state, Votes will go into 2021 extremely vigilant towards any proposed changes to the Alaska state constitution, which might affect reproductive health care rights. In addition to protecting and expanding health care access, Votes is also focusing on legislation combating domestic/intimate partner violence and advocating for non-discrimination policies for Indigenous and LGBTQ communities.
In all states, expanding access to telehealth has been a prominent conversation, especially in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re talking about what it would look like, how many people it would help, to keep loosened regulations [around telemedicine] in place,” Cler explained. “Access to care is a big challenge, and it’s been compounded in the time of coronavirus. We are asking, how can we take what we’ve learned in order to help more people?”
Allen noted that self-reflective questions like these are crucial for an organization that strives to work towards justice. While working to advocate for reproductive health care access, Votes has recognized that racism is a public health crisis, and that fighting against institutionalized racial violence must be a part of their work.
“We’ve been looking at how we can be better partners to communities of color,” said Cler.
Allen added, “We’re looking forward to supporting our friends’ and allies’ work for racial justice and immigrant rights, and to maximizing the effect we can have with President Biden in office.”
Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawai’i released a statement on their blog explaining how and why they support the Movement for Black Lives. “Over policing Black bodies... makes reproductive freedom impossible for Black people in this country,” it states.
Cler said that a key part of Votes’ strategy to be better partners to communities of color. Part of that is through coalition work pushing for police reform at the state and local level.
Votes has also partnered with the ACLU and local racial justice groups in various states.
So, what can someone who wants to support Votes’ work do to get involved?
There are numerous ways for supporters to engage on the web pages of the respective Votes organizations, such as signing up to volunteer, sharing their experiences, or virtually joining a legislative session.
Cler also reports that liking and following Votes on social media, such as Facebook, will net supporters the most up-to-date information.
“We’re headed into legislative sessions, we know they’re going to be critical sessions and we want folks to get engaged,” said Cler.