Ohio State University

Reproductive Rights, Civil Disobedience, and the Role of Civic Engagement in Protecting Democratic Institutions by Cierra Carafice @ The Ohio State University

Clad in pink “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” t-shirts and the attitude of women who plan to get things done, the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio began their action forum to fight for women’s reproductive health. This is in response to Governor Kasich and Senator Rob Portman’s legislative attacks on reproductive health care since 2011, threatening safe, affordable access to healthcare for low-income men and women.

However, Planned Parenthood is not just facing legislative attacks in state or local governments. The federal government of the United States of America also aims to cripple this organization as the “pro-life” movement gains traction in the executive and legislative branches. As recently as January of 2018, the United States Congress attempted to de-fund Planned Parenthood as part of their repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg wrote that elected representatives and autocratic leaders can use democratic forms to achieve undemocratic ends, and one such way is by attacking civil society. In the United States, this can be seen in the blatant stigmatization and sensationalism of Planned Parenthood by political figures and their pro-life lobbying groups.

False information about the organization is spread in an attempt to rally the United States public against Planned Parenthood and influence their votes. This is an example of the contraction of the public sphere and it is distinctly undemocratic. If people do not have true information, then they cannot make a choice that best represents them while voting.

I asked an advocate for Planned Parenthood why the organization did not dedicate more marketing towards refuting these lies and spreading true facts about the organization. She said that it would only reflect poorly on the organization, as people would think this defense indicated guilt. People who are truly interested in learning will fact check the pro-life rhetoric themselves. By not reacting, she believes that Planned Parenthood can better protect their reputation while putting the money they would have used on the marketing campaign towards more important issues.

This is in line with Barrera Rodriguez’s findings in France when studying the effects of fact checking. Fact checking does not move support away from a candidate or movement, and it often backfires. As it happens, their support for that candidate or movement actually increases when given facts about an issue because it raises issue salience. People tend to believe what they want to believe, regardless of true facts and trying to sway them in a different direction may actually further polarize their stance on the issue.

In Ohio, Planned Parenthood is focusing their fight against politicians like Senator Rob Portman, who they claim frequently votes against the wishes of his constituents and is anti-reproductive rights. To challenge his decisions, advocates and other grassroots movements are pushing for change with community action and nonviolent political action like protests and sit-ins.

These protests are also seen on a national level. Planned Parenthood partnered with the national Women’s March, which aims to create social change with the political power of women. This movement is large and diverse, with women from all backgrounds taking part. According to Erica Chenoweth, large movements that respond to repression with unity, resolve, and discipline often succeed.

Planned Parenthood has been advocating for women’s reproductive health care since its formation in 1916, and despite new challenges arising all the time, the organization is extremely effective at pushing its agenda.

Planned Parenthood operates on the principle that elections introduce accountability. They back officials that appear to care about women’s reproductive rights and support health care initiatives overall. However, this may de-legitimize the authority of elected officials to Planned Parenthood supporters.

While elections do introduce accountability, this does not make public leaders accountable to everyone in the community. Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan argue that these elected officials must demonstrate that they are pursuing the goals of the majority. Unfortunately, this means that their decisions may place a heavy burden on minorities in the community.

In the case of Senator Rob Portman, interest groups like Planned Parenthood may campaign against him because he does not support policy that may further their agenda. These interest groups also feel as if they are advocating for the greater good of the community. Therefore, their perception of what the community and constituents want may be biased and they could be protesting against the wishes of the majority.

Despite this potential bias, civil society and organizations like Planned Parenthood are becoming increasingly important under the Trump presidency. President Donald Trump has continuously used populist rhetoric to appeal to his support groups. He utilizes social media outlets to attack civil society, political opponents, and bureaucratic institutions that he disagrees with.

Civil society will have to work hard to protect their voice and the political voices of the minority populations that they represent. President Trump has already taken steps to silence the media, so it would not be a stretch for the administration to actively oppose civil society organizations that conflict with Trump’s agenda.

With a populist national leader and a hostile legislative branch, civil society organizations are an important part of maintaining democratic institutions. These organizations act with political and non-violent means to protect the rights of majority and minority groups. Because one-person-one-vote does not necessarily mean that all citizens have an equal influence over legislators, civil society helps individuals organize and gain more political traction.

As the United States continues to operate under a flawed democracy, civil disobedience and the influence of large organizations like Planned Parenthood will be important roadblocks to the threat of democratic erosion in the years to come.

*Image found at Pixabay by StockSnap, CC0

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