Charlotte, N.C. — The first thing I notice about the Planned Parenthood rally is how sparsely attended it is. It’s being held in a courtyard by the NASCAR Hall of Fame, awkwardly sharing the space with a Fox News stage. There is easily room for hundreds, perhaps a thousand or more. And yet it seems likely that far more people have posed with the sand statue of Barack Obama’s head than are attending this rally.
#ad#The event doesn’t start anywhere near its scheduled time of 1 p.m., presumably because the organizers are hoping more people will show up. (To be fair, finding a way around the police barricades in downtown Charlotte to get to the rally is no easy task. I first trail Sandra Fluke for a few blocks — thanks for the help! — and then, after losing her, look for anyone wearing the Planned Parenthood T-shirt.) Yet there have certainly been ample chances for people to find out about the rally; walking this morning down the main sidewalk between the arena, where the speeches are held, and the convention center, I encountered plenty of volunteers — including old white men, who are apparently allowed to have an opinion about what a woman does with her body if they agree with legal abortion — passing out flyers for the event. The volunteers wore bright pink T-shirts reading: “2012: Yes We Plan.” In case that was too subtle, the zero in “2012” was in the form of a birth-control-pill case.
When the rally finally begins — the crowd now a little larger — a blonde woman comes onstage, wearing a costume depicting the pill case. She introduces herself this way: “My name is Pillomena. I am birth control.” Then she asks the crowd to get close to the stage: “I need all of you to do me a huge favor, which is bring it in. Let’s bring it forward.”
“Pillomena” stays in character, saying, “We’re all here to protect access to me, right? Right? We’re all here because our awesome president made me available at no co-pay.” The crowd cheers. Pillomena then leads the crowd in call-and-response chants like “Planned . . . Parenthood” and “Your vote is your voice . . . vote pro-choice.”
The rest of the rally has a D-list feel to it. Despite the fact that this event is being held at the Democratic convention, the most prominent politician Planned Parenthood has been able to obtain is Newark mayor Cory Booker, whose status within the party hasn’t recovered since his comment defending Bain Capital earlier this summer, and who has been relegated to giving a speech hours before prime time. The only other politician who speaks is Wisconsin congresswoman Gwen Moore. The two celebrities are Aisha Tyler, an actress and comedian who serves on the Planned Parenthood board, and Lisa Edelstein, who is best known for her role as Lisa Cuddy on House — a show she left last year.
The dominant theme is that Republicans hate women and that Obama is a champion of women’s rights. Moore mentions that “in 2010, 15 percent of the woman electorate dropped out,” and adds, “We lost them to Republicans.” She then urges the women at the rally to make this case to their female friends and family: “You ask them whether or not they want to go backward or forward. And anybody who wants you to be barefoot and pregnant, anybody who wants to redefine rape so that you have to prove that you’re a victim in order to get any help or services, that is backward-looking.”
Fluke says, “If there’s one woman in America and one man in America who cares about women who doesn’t know the difference between these candidates by November, then we will have failed.” Tyler states that the GOP positions make it impossible for any Republican to be pro-women. “If you want to do things like make abortion illegal even in cases of rape or incest, if you want to make it difficult for women to get access to birth control, if you want to make sure that medical insurance does not cover birth control, if you want to repeal the Affordable Health Care act, you do not love women,” she says.
Edelstein argues that women are involved in a “true war” when it comes to the political situation. “Do not go to the polls alone,” she urges. “Drag somebody, if she’s a woman especially, because those women are going to vote for Obama — if they know what’s good for them,” she concludes with a laugh. The rally ends with remarks by Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. “Our job,” she says, “is to make sure every single woman and man in this country understands the threat to women’s health care that’s on the ballot.”
Still wondering if the low turnout at the rally is a weird anomaly, I attend a panel later that day called “Keeping Faith in the Democratic Party: Protecting Religious Liberty for Everyone,” hosted by various progressive religious groups, including Catholics for Choice.
“There are just under 300 active U.S. bishops . . . and neither they, nor their lobbying arm, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, really speak for the 68 million U.S. Catholics who share the belief that the use of contraception and the decision to end a pregnancy can be moral decisions and rightly should be made by individuals in accordance with their own conscience,” says Sara Hutchinson, domestic-program director of Catholics for Choice. Sixty-eight million is an impressive number of Catholics to claim to represent, especially given that when I look around I see only six other people in that room attending the panel.
But the rhetoric is charged. Moore sums it up at the rally, declaring: “It is a war on women no matter which direction you look at it from.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.