November 14, 2016

Ithacans Volunteer to Support Planned Parenthood

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Six days after an election that “sent a ripple through the community,” about 65 Ithacans filled tables, couches and any available floor space in the Ithaca Health Center — operated by Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes — to show their support for women’s reproductive rights.

Planned Parenthood volunteers said they were stunned by the online response to Monday’s volunteer night when they posted the event on Facebook shortly after Election Day.

“We had a meeting this afternoon where we were like, ‘We’re going to stop posting this now,’” said Maureen Kelly, vice president for programming and communications, who worried that more people would attend than could fit in the building.

“We are totally overwhelmed and heartstruck,” she said. “Good people, good community and a really just wonderful moment to do this with folks.”

Kelly, who has been working for Planned Parenthood for 22 years, said the event was born of a “community need,” as people feared what a Donald Trump presidency would do for Planned Parenthood and abortion rights. Trump, in an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, said the judge he appoints to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy “will be pro-life.”

“There was a lot of outpouring to us, a lot of people calling us, emailing us, stopping by our health center saying, ‘What can we do? We’re scared,’” Kelly said.

Men, women and children colored paper birds and wrote messages encouraging lawmakers to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of some federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother. Attendees also penned letters to be included in care packages given to Planned Parenthood patients after abortions and other procedures. Kelly said these packages often include chocolates, tea and letters of support.

McKenzie Jones of Ithaca sat at one table, coloring birds with her two sons, Felix, 9, and Arlo, 5.

“I came because it feels like a really relevant time to show support for services that are at risk,” Jones said. “Educating our youth on how to be respectful advocates for everybody is a huge part of the movement.”

On the back of one paper bird encouraging the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, Felix wrote, “Women are badass. This is coming from a boy and kid.”

Other Ithacans said they attended the event because it felt like a tangible way to demonstrate their resistance to the new president-elect.

“It feels like a way to do something active that’s positive,” said Erin Deneuville of Ithaca, before laughing and adding, “instead of crying in bed.”

Travis Grout, another Ithaca resident, said, “Frankly, it was the first time since the election that I actually had something practical to do.”

Planned Parenthood workers and volunteers attempted to channel this frustration by encouraging attendees to RSVP for the Day of Action in Albany on Jan. 30, when hundreds of supporters and staff plan to meet with state officials to lobby for family leave, access to contraception and other causes.

More than 400 people traveled to Albany last January, 150 of whom were from the Southern Finger Lakes, according to Liz Gipson, director of public affairs at the regional Planned Parenthood.

“Even though we’re one of the smallest affiliates within the state, we had a huge turnout and we’re really hoping to continue that,” Gipson said.

She added that supporters talking to elected officials one on one “is by far the most effective way to make sure your politicians listen to you and know what you care about.”

Gipson said Planned Parenthood expects “huge interest” in the Day of Action this year, and said prospective attendees should RSVP from the links on Ithaca’s regional Planned Parenthood Facebook or Twitter as soon as possible.

“Last year we almost hit the fire code with 400 [people] so we really want people to register as soon as possible,” she said.

Ryan Quinn ’18 said he attended the volunteer night to show support for women’s rights, as Trump “has made it abundantly clear he wants to repeal Roe v. Wade,” the landmark Supreme Court case in 1973 that made it illegal for states to unilaterally outlaw abortion.

“One of the most pressing issues is preserving reproductive health access for women of all backgrounds, especially underserved communities, and I think Planned Parenthood is one of the best ways to do that,” Quinn said.

Ritza Francois, 23, an Ithaca resident who has volunteered at the health center for about a year, said she was thankful for the coalition of Ithacans who support Planned Parenthood.

“I think it feels good to know there are people around who care about these issues,” she said, adding that it is important for people to know that Planned Parenthood “is not just for women’s issues. It’s really important that people understand the value of this place for serving a variety of people.”

Others echoed praise for Planned Parenthood as an organization that provides a wide range of services to women and men. Kathryn Howlett, an Ithaca resident who said she has been supporting Planned Parenthood for 40 years, said the organization helped her have children.

“I feel safe abortion is very important, but it’s another part of Planned Parenthood that sometimes people are not aware of,” she said. “When I was married, I had difficulty conceiving and so I came to Planned Parenthood and I had two beautiful children because of Planned Parenthood.”

Kelly, the vice president of programming and communications, said she was overjoyed to see “human to human moments … particularly in a moment where we’re going to be fighting more for folks.”

“This is what we do,” she added, pointing to the room buzzing with supporters. “This is what we do.”