The battle over abortion rights has put Planned Parenthood in the political spotlight. The organization has become politically active in New Jersey, endorsing Cory Booker for U.S. Senate and Barbara Buono for governor. Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey Political Field Director Courtney Patterson told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that women’s health is under attack throughout the country and in the Garden State and members of her organization want legislators to know that women’s health advocates are paying attention.
Patterson pointed out that Gov. Chris Christie cut $7.4 million in the family planning budget line in 2011, a decision which has affected many. “The funding that was cut provided services for 136,000 women and families in New Jersey. And since the funding was cut, we’ve seen a 24 percent drop in patients served,” she said.
Six family planning providers were forced to close as a direct result of the cuts, including two Planned Parenthood health centers, Patterson explained. “That’s one of the reasons why we are engaged so much this year,” she said. “We are determined to make sure that we maintain our pro-women’s health majorities in the state legislature.”
Other states have imposed great restrictions making it difficult for women to have reproductive services available to them. The cuts in New Jersey have devastated women and families, according to Patterson. “What’s important to note is what we’ve seen in states around the country can potentially happen here if we do not protect our champions in the legislature who stood up for Planned Parenthood and stood up for the critical women’s health services that we provide,” she said.
Patterson said Planned Parenthood is supporting Booker for U.S. Senate because he has been a champion for women’s health. “We endorsed him last week and we released web videos highlighting his support for women’s health and we know that he’s gonna be a real champion for women in D.C.,” she said.
The organization has also thrown its support behind Buono for governor. Patterson said she is a huge supporter of women’s health and a former Planned Parenthood patient.
“One of our main goals this year is to highlight the impact, the importance of women’s health to voters in New Jersey. And that’s why we’re working around the state to make sure that we highlight who on the ballot supports women’s health, supports Planned Parenthood. And we know that’s what the majority of New Jersey voters support,” Patterson said.
Pope Francis gave an interview to a Jesuit journal where he said the church has become too focused on issues of abortion, contraception and gay marriage. Patterson said she believes the pope said what many voters have been saying for a long time — “that politicians don’t have a place in a woman’s private medical decision.”
Patterson said Planned Parenthood has been working to get the word out that women’s health issues matter. She said the Women Are Watching campaign was successful last year on a nationwide level. “We’re really working this year in New Jersey to harness that momentum and to make sure that our legislators know that women are watching. It didn’t end in November. And we know that we have more than 175,000 supporters in New Jersey,” she said.
While Patterson pointed out that both men and women support Planned Parenthood, she said the Women Are Watching campaign is designed to show legislators that women’s health advocates are paying attention. She said people can get involved by visiting the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey website.
“You can go to the elections and politics tab and you can see our summary of the Women Are Watching campaign and we have an opportunity to sign up and volunteer and that’s the way that we can demonstrate even after the election that voters in New Jersey support women’s health and are going to continue to engage their legislators on these issues,” Patterson said.