When she was 19 years old, RaeAnna Edwards of Baraboo went to a Planned Parenthood clinic for a checkup. A college student in Minnesota at the time, she had health care coverage through the state. A Pap smear indicated some cell abnormalities, and she returned for a coloscopy.
Edwards learned she had an advanced case of human papillomavirus (HPV), "one step below cervical cancer." She returned to the clinic a month later to undergo a procedure to remove the malignant cells.
Edwards returned every year to Planned Parenthood for annual exams and, eight years later, says she has a clean bill of health.
That's why on Tuesday she was at the state Capitol holding a sign that read "I would have been dead w/o Planned Parenthood."Edwards was one of about 300 protesters at a noon rally organized by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. The rally, though smack in the middle of a workday, drew a far bigger crowd than has been customary in recent years. Attacks on birth control and Planned Parenthood by GOP lawmakers around the country have generated a backlash and served as a wake-up call for individuals concerned about women's access to health services.
The protest was held in advance of Wisconsin Assembly action Tuesday on legislation of particular concern to organizers. The three bills would:
- Repeal the Healthy Youth Act, which requires that school districts that offer sex education provide comprehensive sex education.
- Prohibit abortion coverage in insurance plans that would be offered within the state's yet-to-be created health care exchange. Planned Parenthood says this would effectively ban all insurance coverage of abortion services in the state.
- Require women to go through additional steps -- on top of a 24-hour waiting period -- to receive an abortion. It also calls for additional criminal penalties for doctors. It would require, among other things, that a physician determine whether or not a woman's consent is in fact voluntary.
The rally Wednesday was delayed first by a malfunctioning microphone and then by the collapse of one of its speakers. Sarah Noble, the coordinating director of the Milwaukee Reproductive Justice Collective, was taken away in an ambulance but is reported to be doing fine.
During the delay the crowd took an impromptu march around the Capitol. Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, representing the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, addressed the crowd after the rally resumed.
"People of faith support the use of birth control," said Biatch, standing in for Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, who was ill. He said the "real underlying motivation" behind the moves to restrict women's access to health care is to "undermine all the gains women have made in the last 50 years."
"It's not a religious issue. It's not a legislative issue. It's not a medical issue."
Sara Mattson, 34, came in for the rally from Milwaukee. It was her first such protest, and she says she surprised herself by getting emotional during the march.
"I was moved there were so many people," says Mattson, who volunteers for Planned Parenthood. Though much organizing these days is done via Facebook and Twitter, Mattson says she sees the power of an old-fashioned march and rally.
"It's good to see the sheer number of people," she says. "It helps to see the bodies."