People rally against AHCA

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BRATTLEBORO — Men, women, children, state senators, nurses and everyone in between, showed up to the Pink Out the Night Planned Parenthood Rally Wednesday night.

A number of people were invited to speak about their experiences with Planned Parenthood, including state Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint, D-Windham. She started off with a story about her 9-year-old son, who really likes cars. Whenever the two go out he can't help but shout out makes and models.

"Mom, there's a Ford F150. Hey there's a Dodge Ram 1500. Oh, there's a limited edition Honda HRV. And Mom, look! We're parked between two vulvas!" Balint paused for dramatic affect.

"'Don't you mean Volvos, Abe?" she said."'That's what I said, vulvas!"

Every time this happens — and Balint said it's happened multiple times — she has a conversation with her impatient son about pronunciation, and about what a vulva is. Balint said that, in her house, they normalize the human body. They talk about bras, breasts, vaginas and scrotums. "We use their proper names without embarrassment," she said.

Balint said she's always considered talking about bodies openly and honestly with her kids as an essential aspect to parenting. Lately, it's become even more important.

"Now I also see it as a deeply political act," Balint said.

Balint then began to talk about the revised American Health Care Act that was revealed to the U.S. Senate on June 22. Which would cut off expanded Medicaid funding for states and defund Planned Parenthood.

"There was not a single woman in the room when the House GOP crafted their health care bill, and believe me I use the term 'health care' quite loosely," she said. "Not one woman. Not a single one as they discussed cutting breast cancer screenings, maternity care and contraceptive coverage."

Planned Parenthood is being defunded, in part, Balint said, because there were no women in the drafting room to stand up and say no. She asked rally attendees to not only support Planned Parenthood, but to help more woman get elected to office.

"In the entire history of the U.S. Senate, only 2 percent of senators have been women," she said.

Lucy Leriche, vice president of Public Policy Vermont for Planned Parenthood Northern New England, introduced some of the speakers. She said she tries to attend every Planned Parenthood rally she can because it's important to her to connect with supporters. She made the more than two-hour drive from Colchester down to Brattleboro to attend the rally.

"I love this town; it's an awesome town filled with beautiful people," Leriche said. "We're just really grateful for all the support we've received in Brattleboro."

The concept of a pink out, Leriche said, is to shine pink lights symbolically onto the "secret health care bill drafted by 13 white men." She said the activism of Planned Parenthood supporters seems to be making a difference.

"Across the country senators are caving in to their constituents," Leriche said. "This bill has been unpopular. People have been coming out in droves so that their congress people, as well as their senators know that this is unacceptable."

Leriche said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's announcement to delay the vote is proof of activists' success.

"Even Republicans are feeling uncomfortable with it," Leriche said. "Including our sister state (U.S.) Senator, Susan Collins."

Collins, a Republican from Maine, announced along with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that they plan on introducing an amendment that takes out the AHCA's provision to defund Planned Parenthood.

Tuesday night, Brattleboro Planned Parenthood supporters attended a phone bank where they called Collins.

Many of the people who attended Wednesday's rally had a direct connection with Planned Parenthood. Molly Jordy was there with her son, Stoner Allembert. "He's just along for the ride," she said. But she smiled proudly when announcing that it was Allembert's first rally, and that she was happy he decided not to just wait in the car. Allembert was decked out in pink from head to toe; he said he wasn't really sure what an activist was but that he guessed he was one.

Jordy first went to the Brattleboro Planned Parenthood clinic about 28 years ago.

"I want to support the services they provide, and just have a voice," she said.

Re Gorham, from Springfield, said what made planned Parenthood special to her was the atmosphere. "It was warm," she said. "They played good music." She said it was striking to her first time going to Planend Parenthood that the gynecologist asked her questions and told her what she was going to do before she did it. It's what inspired her to become a gynecologist. That's why, she said, people need Planned Parenthood.

Michelle Cromwell and Janet Hulnick came because they generally support Planned Parenthood. Cromwell is new to Brattleboro, having moved here from Natick, Mass. Hulnick has been starting to get involved with the activism for Planned Parenthood, and she suggested Cromwell come with her to the rally.

"I've been a supporter of Planned Parenthood my whole life," Hulnick said. "I feel really threatened right now by the way the country isn't showing up to support women."

Cromwell said that in Natick the support for Planned Parenthood wasn't as strong as it is in Brattleboro.

"I think it's one thing to understand the issues," Cromwell said, "but I think it's another to take action."

Going to the rally, Cromwell said there was a lot she didn't know about Planned Parenthood.

"Now I want to get involved," she said.

Sierra Dickey with the Woman's Advocacy Center was in attendance to support issues that affect women.

Her friends, Sophie Cooper-Ellis and Jackson Sweitzer, said they came because she had a specific relationship with the Brattleboro Planned Parenthood. Aaron Chesley said that while he didn't have a personal relationship with the Brattleboro Planned Parenthood, many people he knows, do.The four of them were in opposition to the AHCA. Sweitzer made fart noses at the mention of it and Chesley said it was "Bull----."

"I don't know quite enough about it yet," Dickey said. "Except that I just got on Medicaid. As a farm worker and freelancer, I was super excited to have that healthcare support with such a low income, and now that might not be available anymore. But I also know there are plenty of people who need it even more than I do, and so I'm also thinking about them."

They weren't sure that living in Vermont would protect them either.

Sweitzer said he has no confidence in politics.

"Everything just kind of seems up in the air," Cooper-Ellis said.

Balint said she attended the rally because she didn't feel like people understood how many lower income women would be affected by the AHCA. Windham County in particular, she said, has high rates of poverty and high rates of single women raising kids.

"We know that when you have a women-headed household that children are much more likely to be living in poverty, so it's a real concern that I have that women have access to healthcare," she said. When asked why women-headed households are more likely to poor, she said, "well because women make less than men of course... it's all related."

When asked if Vermont has a plan to protect Planned Parenthood, Balint said that's a question she has for Governor Phil Scott. She said a number of other governors had gone down to Washington to oppose the bill.

"Now, I know that Phil Scott signed a letter that he hopes the president will be more mindful about the way [the bill] will affect poor people, but we would like to see more leadership from the governor on this issue," Balint said."We [Vermont] are very much federal dollar dependent."

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.

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