Just outside of the Memorial Union, carved neatly into the dark asphalt leading to the main entrance, “Out of Silence 1 in 3 campaign, Minsky Hall, Nov. 5 & 6 7:00 p.m.” is outlined in blue and orange chalk.
The message was part of several week-long campaign put on by the Student Women’s Association (SWA) to raise awareness about the stigma of receiving an abortion in the United States. The effort culminated in two performances of Out of Silence, a short play depicting the experiences of women who underwent the procedure and hope to give others the same opportunity they had.
The push is timely, coinciding with the beginning of a Congressional investigation into allegations made about the illegal sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to delivering “vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.” This same committee has recently drawn controversy, its six Democratic members purportedly taking $81,000 in Political Action Committee (PAC) money associated with Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.
All the while, debate has raged between those concerned about both the availability of Planned Parenthood’s health services, particularly to low income women, and those looking to protect the rights of the unborn. Allegations of dubious practices by a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas have brought the issue of federal funding to the forefront after years of backburner status, earning a particularly passionate mention from presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina at the Republican Presidential Debate in September.
Concerns about Planned Parenthood’s accountability flared when the Center for Medical Progress posted videos appearing to show Planned Parenthood’s employees abusing the public’s trust with a series of implicatory statements in the summer of this year.
But some aren’t buying the hype.
“Most of the people I know were very frustrated with the way people [were] acting to the allegations, especially since they had been proven to be false.” Kirsten Daley, a student at the University of Maine and member of the Student Women’s association, said. “It is even more frustrating to know that all the good that Planned Parenthood does was being devalued in the face of allegations that had been already proven false but still used as reason to deny people services.”
Still, opponents of Planned Parenthood’s nearly $530 million in federal funding remain concerned about how their tax dollars are being spent, even if those dollars cannot be legally spent on abortive procedures.
“Because Planned Parenthood is a taxpayer funded organization, its actions should be held to high standards. Its figures should be checked; its procedures should be checked,” Abigail Bennett, also a student at UMaine, said. “None of the $500 million in federal funding the organization receives goes directly to abortion procedures, but many feel as though their tax dollars shouldn’t be given to an organization which conducts abortions. Abortion is a moral question, and so is the question of forcing a citizen who is morally against abortions to fund an organization which conducts them.”
This isn’t the first time Planned Parenthood has faced national political opposition. As recently as 2011, Planned Parenthood played a major role in the budgetary crisis that very nearly caused a government shutdown and led to weeks of financial uncertainty. The so-called ‘debt-ceiling crisis of 2011’ was fueled, in part, by dissatisfaction within the Republican party about governmental funding of the group.
Supporters maintain that these attacks are born not of genuine concern about institutional accountability, but of ideological differences about a woman’s right to choose. Regardless of their origin, the challenges have far from stagnated.
While the debate continues to develop, only one thing is certain: neither side will be relenting anytime soon.
“I think everyone should have a personal issue regarding the way we treat Planned Parenthood and the women who seek treatment there,” Daley said. “It is personal because I don’t know that I won’t need them someday, and frankly I’d like them to be there if I do. These things are important, it should be everyone’s problem.”