Our Movement’s Five Most Defiant Triumphs in 2019
By Miriam Berg | Dec. 23, 2019, 12:15 p.m.
Yes, this year was rough. Politicians who are determined to end access to sexual and reproductive health care continued to set policy — bad policy — in the Trump-Pence administration and in state capitals.
But let’s talk about the good things. We do have a lot to celebrate about 2019: we swore dozens of reproductive-health champions into a historic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. We spoke out. We fought back. We told anti-abortion politicians to get their bans off our bodies and out of our bedrooms.
As we observe the holidays and prepare for 2020, let’s celebrate all that we accomplished this year — sometimes in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds — and remember our power.
1. Reproductive Health Laws EXPANDED Access to Abortion
Abortion access champions in state legislatures enacted more abortion protections in 2019 than in the entire previous decade. That includes groundbreaking laws to expand abortion access to more people in more varied circumstances, and ensure that abortion remains legal in their states, no matter what happens to Roe v. Wade. These landmark laws take abortion out of the criminal code to treat it as what it is: health care.
While anti-abortion politicians spawned a wave of unconstitutional state abortion bans and restrictions, proactive bills to solidify abortion’s legal status were signed into law this year in New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Lawmakers in these states affirmed abortion as a fundamental right — protecting access when abortion is needed later in pregnancy and opening the door to allowing more qualified clinicians, including physician assistants and advanced practice nurses, to provide safe and legal abortion care.
2. Justice Served for Discredited Anti-Abortion Group
Remember the 2015 video smear campaign against Planned Parenthood? The videos were roundly debunked, clearing Planned Parenthood of a group of anti-abortion activists’ falsified charges of wrongdoing. And in 2019, the propagandists behind the videos lost a lawsuit — and were found liable for fraud and much more. The jury awarded Planned Parenthood compensatory and punitive damages worth more than $2 million to remedy the harm caused by the anti-abortion activists’ disinformation campaign.
The group of anti-abortion activists — who had ties to people who’ve attempted to firebomb abortion clinics — preposterously called itself “the Center for Medical Progress.” In 2015, it released a string of deceptively-edited smear videos that leveled outrageous accusations about how Planned Parenthood health centers handled fetal tissue from patients who had donated it to medical research labs.
“The jury recognized … that those behind the campaign broke the law in order to advance their goals of banning safe, legal abortion in this country, and to prevent Planned Parenthood from serving the patients who depend on us. They failed. Today and every day, Planned Parenthood’s doctors, nurses, and health center staff continue to serve the 2.4 million patients who rely on us for high-quality health care every year. Our doors stay open, no matter what.”
— Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
3. We Held the Line
Sometimes a win is knowing that things could have been worse — much worse. This year, defenders of reproductive freedom held off attacks on our health and rights, and won several rulings in federal court cases that blocked cruel and destructive policies.
Federal courts blocked:
All early-stage abortion bans from going into effect, including a law in Alabama that would have banned abortion in nearly all instances and threatened doctors with up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion;
A racist and discriminatory citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which would have weaponized the national census against immigrant communities;
Rules that would have taken away the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee that health insurance include birth control without a copay;
A discriminatory "refusal of care" policy that would have let health care workers put their personal beliefs ahead of people’s health — even in emergencies;
An attempt in Missouri to shut down the state’s only abortion provider — which would have made Missouri the first state since Roe v. Wade without a single health center providing abortion.
Planned Parenthood organizations also fought hard against the Trump-Pence administration’s Title X gag rule, which prohibits doctors from giving their patients full information about all of their sexual and reproductive health care options, including abortion. Planned Parenthood and its partners managed to delay the gag rule for most of the year — enabling more than 4,300 additional patients per day to get care through Title X. That adds up to hundreds of thousands of patients who might not have otherwise been able to get care.
Despite our champions’ fierce efforts, the Title X gag rule went into effect in August — and in December, Republican leaders blocked inclusion of Title X protection in the final 2020 spending bill. This means the gag rule remains in place.
Still, Planned Parenthood health centers refuse to be bullied by the administration into withholding information from their patients. Health centers are keeping their doors open and their ethics intact, while Planned Parenthood continues the fight to upend the gag rule. In addition, Planned Parenthood organizations’ national and local engagement efforts — holding hundreds of in-state events, working with dozens of remarkable partners, and reaching millions of people online — have raised awareness of anti-reproductive health politicians’ coordinated attacks. As we go into 2020, we’re well positioned to continue building momentum for publicly funded reproductive health care.
4. New Health Centers Opened and Access to Care Expanded Online
Due to years of targeted attacks on abortion providers by anti-abortion politicians, Planned Parenthood health centers across the country have experienced significant challenges. But these challenges didn’t stop Planned Parenthood from continuing to provide the full range of reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion — and working to expand access to information and care, both on the ground and online.
For example, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri opened a new state-of-the-art health center in Fairview Heights, Ill. Fairview Heights is close to the border with Missouri, where anti-abortion activists are trying to shut down the state’s only abortion provider (see above). As abortion access throughout much of the region hangs by a thread, this new health center offers an oasis for sexual and reproductive health services — not only for Illinois patients, but for the entire area.
In Alabama, targeted attacks on abortion providers have kept Planned Parenthood Southeast (PPSE) from providing abortion services. Nonetheless, PPSE offered nearly 600 Birmingham patients free birth control and evidence-based contraceptive counseling in 2019. Also this year, generous donors helped revamp PPSE’s Alabama facilities. PPSE is now ready to resume abortion care at a relocated Birmingham health center and a renovated Mobile health center, both of which will be open by early 2020.
To empower more people to make their own health care decisions, Planned Parenthood launched new digital tools to meet the needs expressed by patients and website visitors:
Planned Parenthood Federation of America launched sexual health chatbot Roo in early 2019, and by year’s end, it had won a Fast Company magazine 2019 World Changing Ideas Award. Roo helps young people visiting PlannedParenthood.org get personalized health information instantly: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People can ask Roo questions about their health, body, relationships, or about consent, or getting care at Planned Parenthood — or choose from a list of questions and get the answers they need within seconds.
This year also saw the launch of Planned Parenthood Direct, an app that offers birth control and UTI treatment. The app is now available in more than half the country: 27 states and the District of Columbia. App users can get birth control pills delivered to their door, get a prescription for UTI treatment sent to a nearby pharmacy, learn about different methods of birth control, or make an appointment at a Planned Parenthood health center.
In November, Planned Parenthood Federation of America released the Abortion Care Finder, which provides people seeking an abortion with information about their options, state requirements, and the nearest Planned Parenthood health centers where they can access a safe, legal abortion. The tool responds to mounting state restrictions on abortion by connecting users to resources that can help them decide where to go for abortion care based on their location, age, and how far along they are in their pregnancy.
5. We Beat Anti-Abortion Politicians in State Elections
The 2019 elections saw historic wins for reproductive rights. That includes the governor’s race in Kentucky and a total sweep of the general assembly in Virginia. These results demonstrate the unstoppable grassroots momentum to protect reproductive freedom.
In Virginia, voters elected more sexual and reproductive health champions and created new reproductive rights majorities in both the state Senate and House of Delegates. That includes electing the first Muslim woman to the state Senate and the largest-ever delegation of women to the state legislature overall. Many lawmakers who were first elected in 2017 and helped expand access to Medicaid were re-elected. These state officials have helped more than 300,000 Virginians obtain affordable health coverage, and their re-election will pave the way toward scrapping Medicaid work requirements, which limit access to coverage without offering any benefit to public health.
In Kentucky, Governor-elect Andy Beshear defeated anti-abortion extremist former Gov. Matt Bevin. Bevin’s campaign showed that an anti-abortion and anti-Medicaid agenda is not popular at all. Andy Beshear rescinded the Bevin administration’s Medicaid work requirements — a boon for the 95,000 Kentuckians who had been projected to lose their health care coverage if Bevin’s policy went into effect.
These wins reflect that public support for access to abortion is at an all-time high nationwide. A record-high 77% of Americans support the protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. As The Nation writes, "the world we live in is firmly pro-choice. More Americans than ever are realizing this — and voting accordingly."
Fiercely Harnessing Hope for 2020
The victories for reproductive rights in the 2019 elections prove that access to health care, including safe and legal abortion, is a winning issue for candidates — and shows that Planned Parenthood advocacy and political organizations are on the cusp of swinging the pendulum back in 2020. In fact, the crop of candidates in the 2020 elections includes stalwart reproductive health champions at the presidential, congressional, and state levels. Our champions are more ready than ever for wins in 2020.
As a movement, let’s dedicate the New Year to remembering who we are: We are the defenders of bodily autonomy. We are outspoken sexual health educators. We are badass activists who boldly stand up to politicians who threaten access to abortion, birth control, and care at Planned Parenthood health centers. We are survivors, and we are in this together — no matter what.