Posted by Andrew Cantor
Thirty students boarded a bus from Case Center on the morning of Feb. 26, traveled to New York City and joined 5,000 other activists to protest recent legislation that would cut funding for Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.
Planned Parenthood, in coalition with other reproductive rights and health organizations, coordinated "The Rally to Stand Up for Women's Health" in response to an amendment passed in the House Feb. 18 that would cut "Title X" funding for Planned Parenthood.
The Title X Family Planning program — or Public Law 91-572 — allocates federal funding for preventive health services, like education about sexually transmitted infections and screenings for breast and cervical cancers, but prohibits federal funding for abortions. In 2010, the federal government gave $363 million to Planned Parenthood, according to the organization's website.
The Title X program helps fund 97 percent of Planned Parenthood's operations, the majority of which are preventative health efforts. Abortions make up about three percent of the organization's efforts, according to its website. In this past year, Title X funding provided 360,492 STI tests, 67,957 breast exams and 70,490 pap tests to women at Planned Parenthood facilities in New York.
After the House approved the recent legislation with a vote of 240-185, sponsor Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said, "It's morally wrong to take taxpayers' dollars of millions of pro-life Americans and use [them] to fund organizations that provide and promote abortion like Planned Parenthood of America."
The legislation will now go to the Senate for approval.
During the rally this past Saturday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, made clear he would do whatever possible to prevent the Senate from passing the legislation.
"I come from the United States Senate and I bring you good news. These dangerous cuts that have passed the House are dead on arrival in the United States Senate," Schumer said. "And I speak for my colleague [Sen.] Kirsten Gillibrand [D-N.Y.] as well."
While it is unlikely that the Democrat-majority Senate will pass the legislation, students protested Saturday to draw local and national attention to women's rights and women's health.
Emily Zahn '11, a social work major, interns with Family Planning Advocates of New York State as part of her capstone project. She helped charter a bus for activists going to the New York rally from Albany, and later helped organize a bus from Skidmore.
"We coordinated a bus for people from Albany, but I also knew there were Skidmore students interested in going to the rally," Zahn said. "I know students at the school who have used Planned Parenthood services, so obviously the rally was appealing to them."
Sarah Rosenblatt '12, co-president of BARE — the self-identified Skidmore "sex publication" — found out about the rally from a guest speaker in a religion course taught by Mary Stange, professor of Gender Studies and Religion.
Stange invited Nancy Weber, a practicing pagan, to speak to her RE330 "Goddesses and Amazons" class. Weber's discussion with the class was relevant to its multifaceted study of female empowerment, and she explained her own values of community and activism. She also mentioned the upcoming rally in New York City.
Rosenblatt, inspired by Weber's talk, decided to gather a group of students passionate about the women's issues to attend the rally. Rosenblatt contacted Zahn to charter a bus directly from Skidmore to New York.
The chartered 56-seat coach bus from Skidmore to New York cost about $1600 dollars. Students paid only $10 dollars for a seat on the bus, and Family Planning of New York subsidized the rest of the cost.
In the Streets
The Rally to Stand Up for Women's Health drew about 5,000 supporters to Foley Square in downtown Manhattan.
The roughly two-hour midday event featured speeches by Schumer and Democratic Reps. Carolyn Malone, Yvete Clarke and Jerry Nadler of New York, as well as musical performances by The Mountain Goats and Nellie McKay.
Chris Weigl '11, one of only a few males from Skidmore who attended the rally, said he decided to attend because he heard Planned Parenthood was losing funding.
"I decided to go because reproductive health is important to everyone," Weigl said.
Most of the Skidmore students who attended agreed that the event was generally a success.
"The rally was so enthusiastic," Zahn said. "There was just an attitude of happiness and joy."
Rosenblatt expressed similar sentiment, noting in particular the diverse types of people that the event drew.
"It was great," Rosenblatt said. "It was a very active crowd… very diverse in terms of age, race, color and sexually."
Victoria Manganiello '12 was also struck by the types of people who were at the event.
"I think the speakers were powerful," Victoria Manganiello '12 said. "A pastor spoke in favor of Planned Parenthood and their efforts. Normally people equate anti-choice with Christianity… It was good hearing this wasn't necessarily true."
A few students thought event planners could have improved the rally with a more diverse speakers list.
"While it was good to hear a lot of politicians speak, I also don't feel that they're representative of the people who actually use Planned Parenthood's services," Rosenblatt said.
Victoria's sister, Lily Manganiello '14, also noted the overuse of politicians as speakers.
"I didn't necessarily relate to a lot of the speakers," Manganiello said. "Although it was good to hear the politicians speak, because they're the ones directly changing the law."
Students who attended the rally were clearly frustrated with legislation passed in the house, particularly the way they feel it misrepresents fact.
"I'm bothered that people are misinterpreting where Title X funds are going," the younger Manganiello said. "Our tax dollars aren't going to abortions… They're going to birth controls and other preventative measures."
Olivia Morrow '12 lamented the fact that she feels politicians formulate opinions on such matters in accordance with political allegiances.
"It's unfortunate now where politics have gotten to the point where being a Republican means being pro-life," Morrow said. "Politicians are voting on party lines on these very serious issues to women's health."
Zahn plans to continue to support women's health with a rally outside of U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson's, R-Kinderhook, office Friday afternoon on Broadway, in Saratoga Springs.
"We still need to put pressure on our legislators," she said. "We still need a lot of visibility."
Prof. Stange, who attended the rally, said she grew up thinking political action "could work," pointing to the Civil Rights Movement, the women's rights movement, the environmentalism movement and the Vietnam War protests as examples. But now, she said, "It seems almost [as if] change can sometimes seem impossible."
"But I think students here and elsewhere are starting to take to social change," she said.