[youtube width=”690″ height=”400″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTyByJNOdA0[/youtube]
Video courtesy Banana Slug News.
“If you want safe sex, save Title X!” A crowd walking down the middle of Pacific chanted as they marched together, carrying handmade cardboard signs.
A group of UCSC students organized the rally in opposition to the recent Feb. 18 vote by the House of Representatives in favor of an amendment to bar Planned Parenthood centers from receiving federal funding for any of their services.
Many Republicans in the House argue that taxpayer money should not be used to fund abortions. However, Title X, the guidelines for how Planned Parenthood is funded by the government, already prevents federal funding of abortions.
If the Senate passes the bill, Planned Parenthood will no longer receive funding for its centers, which provide services like free or reduced-cost birth control options, cancer and STD screenings and counseling.
This vote is in conjunction with several funding cuts to other public programs — including Women, Infants and Children Centers and Head Start programs, which aid low-income families with education, health services, food packages and nutrition education.
The rally event, which was not connected to the Planned Parenthood Federation, started at noon last Saturday by the Clock Tower in downtown Santa Cruz.
Second-year Juliana Schwartz was one of the students who helped organize the event.
“It’s a part of a nationwide walk,” Schwartz said. “Santa Cruz doesn’t have one so we decided to put one together. It is important for everyone to walk for the ability to choose health and we want to make sure the Senate doesn’t pass this bullshit bill.”
Schwartz works as a volunteer escort for Planned Parenthood.
“Every Saturday is abortion day and anti-choice protesters picket outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic. I walk with girls into the clinic so they feel safe and more comfortable,” Schwartz said. “It’s not just women, either. I walk with children and families too.”
Jesse, a student who chose not to give her last name, helped to organize the event and talked about the goals for the rally.
“I really hope that we can empower people and facilitate conversation,” Jesse said. “I don’t think the legislation is the only thing we should be focusing on. It’s the general oppression of women. We need to build a movement and work together for the cause.”
Before the march, organizers passed out signs and handed out informational leaflets and zines. One popular sign simply depicted a clothes hanger with a “X” through it, referring to the dangerous abortion methods used when there are no safe alternatives provided by medical centers.
Amid car horns and rushing traffic, Katya Birken stood on the ledge of the fountain underneath the clock tower and addressed the crowd.
“They want to redefine rape. They want to change the term ‘rape victim’ to ‘rape accuser.’ Is that OK?” Birken asked.
“No!” the crowd shouted back.
“They want to make it so that unless you have bruises or other injuries, then you actually haven’t been raped. How many of you know that they are cutting $200,000 at Head Start?”
“Kids aren’t going to get eye tests,” Birken said. “They are taking away health care from pregnant women and children, and all other kinds of things. This is much bigger than having access to Planned Parenthood. They are attacking women and families on all fronts.”
After her speech, Birken, who was raped two years ago, explained why she is so active for the cause. She brought up recently legislation put forth by Republicans that would redefine rape.
“The fact that they want to change our name, our status from victim to accuser, what that does is place the blame back on the woman,” she said. “We worked so hard to change that. It doesn’t make sense to go backwards. So, we have to stand up and make sure everybody knows what is actually happening.”
Birken said that the issues at hand involve more than women’s health care and reproductive rights.
“A lot of these things are being cloaked around abortion and what not because there are a lot of Republicans who don’t believe in abortion,” Birken said. “So they’ll vote down abortion and these other little things get snuck in under the radar, which we weren’t prepared for, and then we have new bills that discriminate against women and children.”
At about 1 p.m., the crowd began its trek down Pacific Avenue, turned on Laurel Avenue, and then went all the way up to the corner of Mission Street. The group was followed by a police officer in a car as well as a few on motorcycles that circled around the commotion. The rally took up the whole right lane of the street, which put traffic into an almost standstill.
At the corner of Mission and Bay, the more daring participants proceeded to march a circle in the middle of the intersection, blocking traffic all four ways. Some cars honked while others tried to turn around. After creating a satisfactory amount of traffic, the crowd then turned around and walked back the way they came.
Despite some hostile reactions, Birken explained why she will stand by Planned Parenthood.
“There are a lot of people who go to Planned Parenthood for other things other than abortion. I’ve been to Planned Parenthood for a lot of things. I have never had an abortion.” Birken said. “But if [Planned Parenthood] wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have gotten the help I needed.”
The move against abortion, which has been called common sense legislation by Republican representatives, consists of three separate bills. The bills state that if passed, family planning grants cannot be awarded to any entity that performs or funds other programs that perform abortions, according to govtracks.us. HR 3, the third portion, prohibits federal funds from being used for any health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.
In response to what has been seen as a direct attack on Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, defended the organizations value to women and families.
“For 95 years, Planned Parenthood has provided medical care and family planning services to women across the country,” Richards said in an official statement on Feb. 18. “One in five American women has received care from a Planned Parenthood health center during her lifetime, and last year 3 million patients came to one of our more than 800 health centers. We are trusted by millions of women and families, and we deliver care to those who need it most.”