A guest post by Sarah Erdreich and Rachel Joy Larris.
Several weeks ago, two of the major organizations devoted to protecting women’s reproductive rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, along with a host of other civil rights organizations, brought thousands of people to Capitol Hill to lobby Senators and Congressmen on reproductive rights. (There was also a rally, featuring speeches from senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, and celebrities like Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.)
NARAL’s supporters were given a packet of information on HR. 3 and the bill to defund Planned Parenthood. However, they were not directed to lobby Republicans, or given information about where to find Republican lawmakers; instead, supporters—many of whom came from across the country—were told if they wanted to talk to Republican lawmakers that was up to them, but NARAL wasn’t going to send them into the “lion’s den.”
As for the Democratic representatives, even the offices of ardent pro-choice supporters like Ohio’s Betty Sutton and Virginia’s Jim Moran had no idea it was a pro-choice lobby day. Other offices were aware of this, and had appointments with constituents who traveled from far away. But supporters were not directed to Harry Reid’s office, and were not told to specifically mention the issue of Medicaid coverage of abortions in the District of Columbia. This was an issue that DC’s Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton knew might become a bargaining chip in the federal budget standoff, even if Harry Reid said he was standing firm for Planned Parenthood’s funding.
How much the actual lobby day and rally influenced the eventual outcome is unclear, though it was obvious that the supporters brought a great deal of energy and passion to the day. But as we reflect on our own experiences of the lobbying and the rally, it’s hard not to feel a bit disillusioned, both with the Democratic Party and the current strategies used by the major national pro-choice organizations. Too often, Democratic politicians sacrifice their pro-choice constituents’ interests—but this outcome is made possible because the current strategy of growing pro-choice political power isn’t working. While the majority of the country does not want abortion to become illegal, anti-choice politicians feel more allegiance to their constituency than pro-choice politicians. This is not simply a fault of individual politicians. It is an artifact of how the pro-choice political community does its organizing work: from the top down.