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Feminist Majority Foundation Chat Series of 2003

Gloria Feldt, President
Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Gloria Feldt Since becoming president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in 1996, Gloria Feldt has demonstrated a unique capacity for clarity of vision and courageous leadership. She has set a bold and proactive agenda to advance reproductive rights in the U.S. and globally and to provide reproductive and sexual health services for all women and men.

Feldt is the author of Behind Every Choice Is a Story, which was published by University of North Texas Press in January 2003. A blend of personal stories, commentary, and memoir, this book has become a clarion call for everyone who cares about advancing reproductive freedom. Columnist Liz Smith has called it a "moving and momentous book."

Moderator: Please welcome Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. As president, Ms. Feldt leads 126 PPFA affiliates that manage 875 health centers around the country. She has also just recently published Behind Every Choice Is a Story, a blend of personal stories, commentary, and memoir. Thank you for joining us today, Ms. Feldt!

Gloria Feldt: Thank you. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to talk with you who are here today and to answer any questions you might have. My hope is that Behind Every Choice Is a Story will both encourage you to share your stories and in doing so, that together we will sound the clarion call and alert people to the need to take action to protect and advance reproductive rights.

posted: 5/6/2003 4:47:00 PMCentral Standard Time

inda Gudmundson: Gloria, How do we as women of choice, fight an administration that is so against us?

Gloria Feldt: Linda,
Precisely because this administration is so anti-choice, your activism is more important than ever. The most important tool we have is our own voices. By that I mean, our participation in the democratic process from precinct level to election day and from writing letters to the editor expressing our point of view to joining and working with organizations like the Feminist Majority and Planned Parenthood, because together we are stronger.

Also remember that in politics, the worm always turns eventually and we can help this one turn.

posted: 5/6/2003 4:50:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Kelly Nelson-Wright: How do you envision the role of Planned Parenthood in America in 20 years?

Gloria Feldt: Here are my goals: PP services should accessible to everyone everywhere. You should be able to get reproductive health care services close to your home location, and you should be able to get the information and access to many of the services through media including whatever comes next after the web.

Secondly, PP will be a thermostat setting the political and social climate for reproductive health care. We will change how America deals with sex so that sex and sexuality are understood as positive, healthy parts of our lives, and the political climate will be so supportive of reproductive choice that everyone who runs for office will be pro-choice. One more thing, and that is, we want to be the model for embracing the great diversity of our country and always be a voice for those whose voices are not heard.

posted: 5/6/2003 4:53:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Phebe Intihar: Reproductive rights groups generally oppose the appointment of Priscilla Owen to the federal bench because of her ruling in support of a Texas law requiring parental notification. Is that fair; that is, did Judge Owen have a choice, given that the legislature had written that parental notification into law? I am uneasy about opposing a woman's appointment to the federal bench on what may be shaky grounds, if Judge Owen is not otherwise dangerously opposed to reproductive rights.

Gloria Feldt: PP does oppose Priscilla Owen's confirmation. We have joined with a large coalition of civil and human rights organizations that also oppose her nomination. So the problem with Judge Owen ranges beyond her ruling on that parental notification case. In that particular case though, Priscilla Owen demonstrated a level of judicial activism so inappropriate that her own colleagues--equally anti-choice-- criticized her for going beyond what the law requires. But the bottom line is that I believe women's reproductive rights are fundamental human and civil rights. I do not think anyone should sit on the federal bench unless he or she affirms a commitment to women's human and civil rights just as we would expect judicial nominees to affirm their commitment in other aspects of the US Constitution.

posted: 5/6/2003 4:58:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Jerry Steinberg: There are rumors abounding that not having a child puts a woman at greater risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, etc., but pregnancy and childbirth are still not without risks of their own. Which is riskier to a woman's health, having a child or not having a child? Thank you. Jerry Steinberg Founding Non-Father of NO KIDDING! The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles www.nokidding.net; info@nokidding.net

Gloria Feldt: This is a medical quesiton that I don't feel qualified to answer.

posted: 5/6/2003 4:59:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Kristina Althoff: Ms. Feldt, The Emergency Contraception pill is so vital for women's reproductive freedom. There is a lot of talk now about making it over the counter. My question is what is in it that it has not been over the counter already?

Gloria Feldt: Good question. In many countries, all birth control pills are over-the-counter. The World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted extensive studies and concludes that birth control pills could safety be over-the-counter everywhere. Emergency Contraception (EC) likewise has been found to be exceedingly safe and to pose few risks. EC is just a high dose of regular birth control pills, so the safety is well determined. It is important for women to have good and complete info about how to take EC. That's why PP has supported laws that enable pharmacists to provide EC and be trained to provide information as they provide EC. In summary, it's safe and it's time to make EC readily available and accessible to all women.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:02:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Marie: Can you comment on your experience writing Behind Every Choice Is a Story? I'm always suprised how little I can find about women's experiences with abortion.

Gloria Feldt: The story came from several sources. Some came from PP patients. Some were unsolicited letters I received. Some came from people who knew I was writing the book and wanted to share their story. I decided to write Behind Every Choice Is a Story, because I think it is time for the voices of women and men in the 21st century to be heard. Because in some instances, our voices are drowned out by the polarized media or the screaming demonstrators.

The stories organized themselves into the life cycle, starting with people who talked about how they learned about sex, their adolescent years growing up, their 20s and 30s as they began to build relationships and make families, and then the progression towards understanding how the personal is political and finally what life can be like when everyone can enjoy the great blessings of motherhood and fatherhood in freedom.

I took my inspiration from Margaret Sanger's 1928 book called "Motherhood in Bondage". In that book, Sanger compiled letters from women asking how to prevent or stop getting pregnant, and it elevated the concept of birth control from something that was illegal and clandestine to something people talked about and that led to the eventual legalization of birth control.

I want Behind Every Choice Is a Story to elevate the 21st century concept of reproductive self-determination and freedom to that of a fundamental human right.

I realized as I was compiling the stories that to be intellectually honest, I needed to tell my own story too for the first time. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and also the most empowering and rewarding. It opened conversations with my own children, conversations we had never had, and this brought us closer together. And I began to understand something about the power of storytelling. I have come to believe that our stories have great power to change the world.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:06:00 PMCentral Standard Time

RM Kuhn: What has been your biggest challenge since your started leading PP?

Gloria Feldt: My biggest challenge has been changing the mindset of our constituents from defensive to pro-active. When I say that I believe we should be thermostats, I mean that we should set the climate, we should set the agenda, we should define the terms of the debate, and that we should not just be thermometers reacting and responding to the temperature someone else has set.

When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, and abortion became legal, many people thought the battles were won, but in a democracy, every victory must be preserved by continuing to advance policies that will protect and expand it. So, after years of fighting to maintain what had been won, I found that my biggest challenge was to persuade our constituents to become pro-active. And we did that by developing legislation like contraceptive coverage laws that have now passed in 20 states, but we have a long way to go and in a hostile political climate, we must redouble our efforts to organize around policy initiatives and service provisions that will excite and energize our supporters.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:18:00 PMCentral Standard Time

David: Planned Parenthood says that it stands for choice, yet your latest annual report demonstrates that you performed 109 abortions for every one adoption referral. It seems that Planned Parenthood is not promoting "choice" but simply abortion. Your thoughts?

Gloria Feldt: PP provides women with accurate and unbiased information about their options and choices. Women make the decision based on what they believe is right for them and their own beliefs and values. There are many adoption agencies and few abortion providers. Therefore, it is also a fact that women who have decided to opt for adoption are more likely to go directly to those adoption agencies rather than come to PP. But when they do, you can be sure that their choices will be honored and supported as much as the choices of women who choose to carry a pregnancy to term and parent a child or those women who choose to terminate their pregnancy.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:21:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Karlee Rockey: I don't know exactly how to ask this question but I believe ther would be less abused children and less children in foster care and the streets if abortion was more readily avaliable. How do you feel about this? I want to start a campaign in my state for a pro-choice license plate. I am in NC. Do you know how I can do this? I am a lesbian and a mother of two and believe totally that it's a woman's choice.

Gloria Feldt: To the first quesiton, it just makes sense that when children are planned and wanted, they will be better cared for.

In answer to the question about pro-choice license plates, I would suggest contacting the local PP office to determine whether such an initiative is already underway and if you could join. If not, the office may be interested in joining you in the effort or directing you to another organization that is working on it. I want to applaud your thinking and initiative. Getting pro-choice license plates in your state is being a thermostat not a thermometer!

posted: 5/6/2003 5:24:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Angela: Is it ethical for a women's health clinic to represent themselves as a clinic that prescribes the morning-after pill when in reality they are a pro-life clinic trying to make sure the 72-hour window passes? This has happened to a few people I know as well as myself in my town. I was mortified when Iset up an appointment and was assalted for holding pro-choice opinions and was told Iwas killing God's children! Can they really misrepresent themselves this way in their advertising?

Gloria Feldt: It sounds like false advertising to me. It may be fraud or it might be medical malpractice. It's worth checking with an attorney to determine whether they are engaging in illegal activity. But whether their actions are illegal or not, they are certainly unethical and should be reported to the public.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:28:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Cathryn Dow: Is your book Behind Every Choice Is a Story available now in stores?

Gloria Feldt: Behind Every Choice Is a Story is available in many bookstores as well as online bookstores (Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com) and can be ordered through www.behindeverychoice.com.

Some bookstores have not stocked Behind Every Choice Is a Story and you can help make sure they do by calling them or stopping by to check and see whether the book is in stock. Or, you can ask to purchase it from them when they have it in stock.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:33:00 PMCentral Standard Time

LuAnn Awtrey: In what ways did the social climate of West Texas help solidify your belief in women's reproductive rights?

Gloria Feldt: Well I was living on the other side of the oil patch from George W. Bush, metaphorically. I think the fact that I was a woman growing up in the 1950's and experiencing many injustices helped to steer me toward being pro-choice and pro-women's rights. For example, I couldn't get credit in my own name without a male co-signer. I was not encouraged to have a profession except possibly teaching or nursing "to fall back on," meaning that one could utilize if the men in our lives disappeared or died. We were not encouraged to go to college and were encouraged to marry young.

My first awakening came with the civil rights movement, and I began to realize that civil rights should apply to women too. And I wanted to help make that happen. I knew firsthand how hard it is to be a good parent when you are still a child yourself. And I wanted to try and create a society where my own children could have more opportunities and especially where they could wait until they were more mature until they could have children themselves.

While I was teaching at Head Start, I could see firsthand how being able to limit the number of children they had enabled families to work their way out of poverty and provide better lives for their children. I knew that the birth control pill had saved my life. So all of those things wove themselves into a tapestry that made me realize I wanted to work for reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care. I can't say it was any one overwhelming event or moment that brought me to this place, but rather the combination of experiences--some of them weren't unique to West Texas, but all of them were universal to women at that time.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:36:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Shannon: Hi Gloria, thanks for making yourself available for questions. Mine isn't an easy yes or no. I know that in Pennsylvania Ii am not clear on whether or not this is a federal law or solely applies to this state) when one has an abortion it is no longer legal to bring a friend or loved one into the room during the actual procedure. Personally, Ii think one's mental health should be a higher priority and that therefore the individual should be able to make that choice for herself. What are your feelings on this matter and do you have any suggestions as to what could be done?

Gloria Feldt: Though I'm not familiar with the law that you refer to, I think it is first of all, important for a woman to have an opportunity for private counseling, to make sure her decision is in fact hers alone and that she is comfortable with it--also to be able to answer any questions she might have and that she might be concerned to ask in the presence of others. That said, I agree with you that a woman should be able to have a supportive individual with her to the extent that this does not compromise the quality of medical care. Ultimately, that might more properly be the judgement of the clinician.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:44:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Julie Hildebrand: How are you funded, and do you offer funds to help women who can't afford services? If so, how are those funds supported?

Gloria Feldt: Each of our affiliates is separately incorporated and may be funded by a variety of sources: patient fees, government grants/contracts, and charitable contributions. The national organization's advocacy work is funded entirely by charitable contributions. Every affiliate does its best to make sure that women can receive family planning or other services regardless of their ability to pay. You probably know in most states, there is no government subsidy for abortion services. In those situations, often affiliates establish loan funds or other mechanisms where charitable contributions can help cover the costs of abortion of women who can't otherwise afford them.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:50:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Bodie: What impact has this Bush Administration had on a women's right to safe and legal abortions? How much worse would it become if he is re-elected?

Gloria Feldt: George W. Bush and his anti-choice colleagues in Congress are weaving a pernicious web of anti-choice actions that will strangle reproductive rights unless we stop them.

These range from regulations that make the fetus more important than the woman in law, to gag rules, to defunding family planning internationally, to promoting abstinence-only programs instead of comprehensive sex education, to stacking the federal courts with anti-choice judges. Many people believe that Bush has not pushed as hard on his anti-choice agenda during his first term as he will if elected to a second term, because he needs to keep moderate Republicans in his fold in order to get re-elected. So yes, things could get even worse if Bush is elected to a second term.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:53:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Bart: What are your feelings on the current Democratic hopefuls?

Gloria Feldt: I want to hear the Democratic hopefuls for president speak up and talk about what they will do to make sure that every American has access to family planning services that prevent unintended pregancies and enable them to plan wanted ones, that every person has access to medically accurate sex education, that they will restore the access that has been lost to safe and legal abortion, and will lead Congress toward writing the basic principles of reproductive self-determination into federal law.

posted: 5/6/2003 5:57:00 PMCentral Standard Time

Moderator: Thank you Gloria, and everyone who joined us today for this chat. I hope you will pick up a copy of Behind Every Choice Is a Story and join us again for the next chat!

Gloria Feldt: Thank you very much. It has been a pleasure as always to be talking with friends and colleagues who share the committment to a woman's right to reproductive choice, and I want to thank the Feminist Majority for this opportunity and encourage all participants to share their own stories with me on www.behindeverychoice.com. Tell your story, change the world!

posted: 5/6/2003 6:00:00 PMCentral Standard Time

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