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The Answer Blog

From N.J. to D.C.: How – and Why – I Lobbied to Stop the Stupak Amendment

Some women like to go shopping when they want a break from their busy lives; others like to lunch. Not me. I like to lobby. In particular, I like to lobby my Congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., on causes I care about.

I love the give and take of reasonable argument and discussion; I like learning facts; I like testing my ideas; I like to plant the seed of change in another person’s mind or heart; I like to understand the reasons why they oppose my views; I like to try to make a difference in the formation of public policy.

Last week was a banner one for me. I went to Washington, D.C., with eight friends to participate in National Lobby Day to “Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban,” organized by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and other women’s reproductive health and rights groups after the passage of the House of Representatives’ bill containing the Stupak amendment.

The amendment would prohibit millions of women from purchasing health insurance coverage that includes abortion in the new exchanges, even with their own money.

The day’s purpose: for women across the nation to lobby their Senators to “Pass Health Care and Stop Stupak!” and to ensure that language similar to the Stupak amendment would not be included in the Senate bill.

The organizers didn’t want anti-choice groups to use abortion coverage as a way to hijack health care reform. They wanted to counter with their own overwhelmingly female lobbying force. (After all, women do hold up half the sky.)

As we sat on the early morning train from Trenton to Washington, my friends and I agreed that we supported the passage of health care reform legislation to cover the millions of Americans who have no insurance and to reduce the ever-growing health care cost burden on our economy.

But we also agreed that we did not want this bill hijacked by anti-choice forces and new restrictions placed on a woman’s right to choose.

The energy in the auditorium of the Dirksen Senate Office Building could have lit the White House Christmas tree without a switch. The room was brightened by Planned Parenthood staffers’ pink T-shirts proclaiming “Health Care for Every Community.” We picked up a packet of papers, pasted “Pass Health Care! Stop Stupak!” stickers on our chests, and attended one of several Lobby Day trainings. We learned the essentials of lobbying in a nutshell: “Be Concise, Compelling, Relevant, and Credible.”

Cecile Richards, the friendly, low-keyed president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, thanked us all for coming. She told us that we represented every region of the nation and that busloads had come from as far away as Maine, Wisconsin, and “the deep South.”

The morning speakers were diverse: African-American women, Latina women, old women, young women, and even a smattering of men. I most appreciated the fiery Billie Avery, a longtime grassroots organizer for black women’s health, who urged us to tell our legislators that “women demand to have control over our own bodies. … If they turn their back upon their female constituents, you tell them, ‘You are in danger of losing your base.’ ”

Luckily, we caught Senator Frank Lautenberg as he left his office for a meeting on the health care legislation; he stopped and greeted us warmly. He knew why we were clustered outside his door: our stickers spoke volumes. Always a friend of reproductive choice over his many years of public service, he didn’t have to tell us his position on the bill. But he said that we would meet with his aide on health care and she would pass along all our ideas.

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