Delaware politics more moderate than national, Planned Parenthood official says

March 6, 2012

Planned Parenthood’s goal is prevention, Amelia Auner, vice president of public affairs for the organization’s Delaware office, told 20 members of the Eastern Sussex Democrats last week.

That means preventing unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and risky behaviors, Auner said. She was the guest speaker at the group’s monthly meeting at Bethany Blues.

Auner’s talk could hardly have been timelier. A few weeks ago there was the big Susan B. Komen dustup, in which the foundation first decided to defund Planned Parenthood and then reversed itself. And on the day Auner spoke, Thursday, the Senate just barely defeated the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to exempt themselves from provisions of President Obama’s healthcare act on moral or religious grounds. That would have included opting out of insurance plans that provided free birth control coverage, obviously a key issue for Planned Parenthood.

Auner was happy to report that night that senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons had voted against the amendment.

Though many think of abortion when they think of Planned Parenthood, Auner emphasized the range of services, which also includes contraception, cancer screenings, gynecological exams, education and advocacy. The organization served 11,000 Delawareans last year, with men making up 10 percent of the clients.

“Access to high-quality, confidential healthcare is a human right,” Auner said. It’s also something the organization will keep fighting for.

Last year, defunding Planned Parenthood became a hot-button issue in Congress. If the move had succeeded, Auner said, that would have taken away services from 7,000 Delaware women. While reproductive issues have sparked political battles nationally, Auner said that hasn’t been true of Delaware.

“We have a very reasonable General Assembly,” Auner said. “There are pro-choice Republicans and Democrats, and we are happy to have them.”

Auner said support for Planned Parenthood among Delawareans is fairly evenly split, with roughly a third always supporting the organization, a third never supporting it, with the remaining supporting it on some issues but not others. “We’re lucky to be in a moderate state,” Auner said.

Much of the informal talk that night centered on how much the politics of reproductive issues had changed, with some likening the political mood as a return to the 19th century. “It’s scary,” said one. “Very scary,” echoed the woman next to me.

And whatever side of the issue you’re on, the change has been startling. Republicans used to support contraception. In 1970, President Nixon signed into law Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which made contraception available to all regardless of income. The law was sponsored by Rep. (and later president) George H. W. Bush of Texas.

Some, I realize, don’t regard either of those politicians as particularly conservative, but consider Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, who remains something of a gold standard for conservatives. He was an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood.

Among those attending the meeting were Joan Deaver, Sussex County councilwoman; Betty Deacon, her campaign manager; Dick Byrne, a member of Mitch Crane’s campaign committee (Crane, of Lewes, is running for insurance commissioner); and Lise Haupt, area director for Obama for America.

The Eastern Sussex Democrats meet the first Thursday of each month at 11:30 a.m. at Bethany Blues. President Phil Mandel actively encouraged members to get more people to attend.

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