The War on Women – The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood and author of No Excuses, advises women to set the women's rights agenda, rather than waiting to react to injustice.

Gloria Feldt: We’re seeing a whole spate, a whole new generation of bills in state legislators right now, that are aimed to intrude upon the physician-patient relationship and essentially to shame women, to make women go through shaming procedures, before they’re able to get an abortion, if that is their choice.  And I think the reason we’re seeing those frankly is because the pro-choice side has not been as proactive lately.   

It’s not enough to fight back.  You have to always be fighting forward.  If you don’t set the agenda somebody else is going to set it, and you may not like the way it’s being set.   And that’s what I think is happening.  Even in legislatures where pro-choice, pro-family planning, pro-women legislation might not pass, it’s critically important to be putting forth policy measures, and that lets you define the agenda.  It lets you to fight the battle on your terms.  And it also helps to smoke out the negative side of legislation like the forced ultrasound that some people have actually equated to the legal definition of rape, particularly the trans-vaginal internal ultrasounds when a woman doesn’t really want to have one and it’s not medically necessary.  If we’re not putting forward legislation that enables people to see how important women’s health is, how much good it can do if you have real women’s healthcare, how much more important it is to actually focus on prevention than on after the fact, after an unintended pregnancy has occurred.  If you don’t like abortion, for goodness sakes, why don’t you support contraceptive coverage?  Why don’t you support family planning funding for low income women?  I mean, these are the kinds of statements that you need to make if you’re an advocate out there and not wait and just fight back against these really negative bills.  

I mean,I'll give you an example from my own background when I was running Planned Parenthood in Arizona.  We had an anti-choice ballot initiative that would have outlawed all abortions in the state, and I'll tell you our constituents were terrified.  They just knew this was going to pass.  I said, “This will be the best thing that ever happened to us.”  And so to fast forward, sure enough we ended up defeating it by a 67% vote.  That was the highest percentage that ever voted against a ballot initiative in the history of the state because when we made people think about it, when people had to really think about, do you really want the government telling you what to do about child bearing, well, they pretty much came down on our side.  But you have to be willing to get out there.  You have to be willing to embrace the controversy, to ride into the wave of it, use its energy to propel your message forward and not be afraid.

Now having said that, let me also say that the problem with being on the defensive so much is that you get into this kabuki drama with your adversaries and you just get locked into this pattern, and I don’t think it’s a positive pattern.  So honestly my goal when I was national president of Planned Parenthood was to shift us from that defensive mode to a much more proactive mode, and that’s why I started the whole move to get contraceptive coverage back in 1996, because I would tell people we have to be thermostats, not thermometers.  We need to set the temperature, not just react to it.  It’s fine to be able to have a good reaction.  You have to do that.  It’s really important, but if that’s all you do then you’re not giving people something to aspire to, something positive to rally around, and what that means is that you’ll continually be pushed back.  You may fight the good fight, but you’re going to lose in the end.  So I say defense is good.  You’ve got to know how to play a good defense, but ultimately it’s the offense that wins the game. 

Directed / Produced by

Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd


Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood and author of No Excuses, advises women to set the women's rights agenda, rather than waiting to react to injustice.

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