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Abortion and Kentucky politicians

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… Given the certitude of abortion opponents that abortion violates God’s Word, it might come as a surprise that neither the Old Testament nor the New mentions abortion – not one word.

– Katha Pollitt, Time magazine

As usual, a slew of Republican state House and Senate candidates ran on anti-abortion platforms last month. Nearly all of them won big from Jordan to Jenkins, adding to Democratic worries that pro-choice Democrats can’t succeed at the polls beyond Louisville and Lexington.

“We’ve been told repeatedly that Democrats can’t win because of ‘God, guns and abortion,’” said Nicole Erwin, communications manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky. “We’ve got to change the narrative, and unapologetically embrace reproductive health care. This election showed us how hard the work ahead will be.”

Nicole Erwin

Indeed, Republican lawmakers represent almost all of rural Kentucky, including Erwin’s native Calloway County. Even so, she vows she’s not whistling past the graveyard.

“Polling from last year showed that a majority in Kentucky oppose a ban on abortion. So, this idea that Democrats can’t be pro-choice and win is false.”

Added Erwin: “Education around reproductive care is critical. If our politicians could connect the importance of increasing access to this care instead of restricting it, constituents would move away from the political theatre radicals have attached to Planned Parenthood’s name and the services we provide.”

Even so, many Democrats running in rural counties profess to be as anti-abortion as their Republican opponents. Others Democrats sidestep the issue entirely, fearing the wrath of religious conservatives who equate abortion with murder.

Erwin concedes that right-wing pastors, politicians, and pundits never miss a chance to demonize her organization. “Politics doesn’t belong in public health, yet here we are in the middle of a pandemic moving toward 300,000 deaths because President Trump thinks it is a game.

“We do not want politicians making health care decisions for people. Until that changes, laying a foundation for legislators and developing a basic understanding about what services are included when you talk about reproductive health care and abortion would go a long way.”

She said that “if people don’t understand that abortion is health care, and that Planned Parenthood provides a full range of care — like STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing and treatment, cancer screenings, affordable birth control, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) prevention and so on — and that we aren’t only an abortion provider, then we are just shouting into the wind.”

Erwin cited national polls showing that 7 in 10 Americans don’t want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 decision in which the high court legalized abortion.

Most Americans “want to keep abortion safe and legal,” Erwin said. “What is noteworthy is how many people don’t understand the entirety of care Planned Parenthood provides. When people in Kentucky hear ‘Planned Parenthood,’ they think abortion instead of a health care provider offering preventive health services. From basic education about reproductive health care to experts who provide depression and domestic violence screenings to life-saving abortion services, Planned Parenthood offers comprehensive care.”

Erwin said that an abortion can save a mother’s life. She cited an ectopic pregnancy: “a non-viable pregnancy that occurs outside of the womb that can lead to internal bleeding and death without treatment – the only way to treat that is abortion. That is health care.”

When the federal government denied Planned Parenthood funding for its family planning program (Title X), because it included abortions, “reproductive care services suffered drastically. It is our most vulnerable populations who suffer most – people with low incomes, our communities of color, and the LGBTQ+ folks.” 

Warned Erwin, “It is so much easier for people to pass judgment instead of trying to understand the complicated circumstances involved in pregnancy – that’s not even including a person’s right to bodily autonomy.”

Erwin said politicians ought to “be doing everything within their power to increase access to reproductive health care because it is a winning issue. Until our leaders can effectively communicate that, we’ll continue to struggle to achieve equality and reproductive freedom. We will continue to see our Democratic candidates struggle.”


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