Dozens of pink lights and glow sticks lit the dusk Wednesday when more than 250 supporters of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota rallied at the group’s headquarters in St. Paul to urge Congress to protect people’s access to health care.
Similar rallies were planned in at least 20 other states.
Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate have said they will release a “discussion draft” of their version of the health care bill on Thursday; a vote is likely next week. Nobody knows whether the Senate bill will include provisions to defund Planned Parenthood; some object to the group because it offers abortions in some clinics.
The health care bill passed by Republicans in the House called for cutting federal funds to Planned Parenthood. A provision in that bill also temporarily blocks the group from participating in the Medicaid program.
Planned Parenthood (PPMNS) said 66,000 people in Minnesota rely on Planned Parenthood annually and 28,000 of those use Medicaid to pay for their care.
“Members of Congress are trying to portray Planned Parenthood as the problem when in fact we’re the solution,” said Connie Lewis, executive vice president of external affairs for PPMNS. “Teen pregnancy rates are the lowest they’ve ever been. Unintended pregnancy rates are at historic lows. Abortion rates are the lowest since Roe. All because of access to birth control.”
Lewis said Planned Parenthood offers birth control, STD testing and cancer screening, testing and treatment for those who rely on Medicaid.
Amy Novy of St. Paul said she came to the rally “for my daughter. She’s 14.”
She said her sister brought her to the rally “but I know what I’ve needed in the past, and it wasn’t abortion.”
Her sister, Angie Ebertz of St. Paul, also brought her 22-year-old daughter, Alanna.
“I got all my prenatal care here,” she said. “I was 18 with no insurance and Planned Parenthood let me have her.”
Tim Stanley, senior director of public affairs at PPMNS, said under the GOP plan, 23 million Americans would lose health insurance, and access to low-cost health care at Planned Parenthood would be blocked.
“We have work to do,” he shouted. “We have to do it now! We need to educate our neighbors on what’s at stake. We need to contact our legislators. We need to do all this now! We need to tell our children and our grandchildren that we were on the right side of history.”
Jennifer Cochran of South St. Paul said she’s “really scared about what’s going on in the health care bill with men making all the decisions without any input from women.”
Planned Parenthood provided services for her when she was a student in New York, worked full-time and had no money.
“It was really nice that they were there,” she said.
The crowd wore pink shirts, pink hats, pink shoes; some had pink hair. They cheered loudly each time a car or semitrailer truck honked in support.
“What do we want!” the crowd shouted. “Choice! When do we want it! Now!”