Championing Reproductive Justice

Jesse Mermell
Feb 3 · 6 min read
Jesse and others marching in Pride with Planned Parenthood in 2010
Jesse and others marching in Pride with Planned Parenthood in 2010
Marching in Pride with Planned Parenthood in 2010

The bottom line: reproductive rights are under attack, and I’m going to do everything in my power to protect them — just as I have my entire career.

Reproductive health care must be affordable and accessible for all people.

Rights in Jeopardy — Right now

An individual’s right to choose is in jeopardy to an extent not seen for generations. I am grateful to the friends and family in my life who have been open with me about their experiences with the American reproductive health care system, particularly with their personal experiences related to abortion.

Since nearly 1 in 4 American women has had an abortion, it isn’t rare to know someone who has terminated a pregnancy. Virtually all of us do. However, due to stigma and a culture of shame, it is rare for people to talk about their abortions — even with the people with whom they are closest.

From an aunt who was able to chose to have an abortion in the wake of Roe v. Wade to a dear friend struggling to access abortion care in a state with some of the most draconian abortion policies in the country, I’m no stranger to the stories of the impact that having the right to choose has had on the lives of people around the country abound. And they make it clear why we have to keep fighting to protect that vital right.

In March, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case that has the potential to take a sledgehammer to Roe v. Wade (the law of the land for nearly 50 years) and decimate the reproductive health care system around the country. This case is particularly concerning because the Court heard a similar case three years ago and found the challenged law unconstitutional. The only difference: the composition of the Supreme Court. Other cases of equal or greater threat to the right to choose are working their way through the judicial system, and courts stacked with anti-choice judges are poised to take reproductive rights in America back to dangerous times. The threats extend across the spectrum of reproductive care. Just this past January the Supreme Court announced that they will also be taking up a case that could roll back contraceptive coverage for people across the country.

This is my fight

Being pro-choice isn’t just a position I hold. It represents work I’ve done and progress I’ve fought for throughout my career.

Fighting for birth control to be covered as preventive care during my time as VP for External Affairs at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts — in the heart of the debate around the Affordable Care Act. Leading like-minded progressive business leaders to fight for the ACCESS Bill and the ROE Act here in the Commonwealth as the President of the Alliance for Business Leadership. Fighting to elect pro-choice women to office up and down the ballot as the head of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.

I’m no stranger to protecting reproductive rights, and I intend to fight for them harder than ever when I’m in Congress to ensure we never take a step back.

Here’s my plan:

  1. Codify Roe in federal law.
  2. Repeal the Hyde Amendment.
  3. Rescue Title X from the Trump Administration, and fully fund it.
  4. Keep federal money out of Crisis Pregnancy Centers.
  5. Fund comprehensive sex education programs.
  6. End the global gag rule.

Codify Roe in federal law. Anti-choice activists have taken their significant legal challenges to Roe v. Wade all the way to the Supreme Court. That’s why Congress must protect people in need of abortion care by codifying the protections and rights of Roe in federal law so that Americans are protected in the event of a Supreme Court ruling that rolls back reproductive rights. Congress must pass legislation that both protects the right of a provider to offer services, and protects the right of a patient to access the care they need.

Repeal the Hyde Amendment. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been an impediment to the ability of low-income people to access abortion care and has disproportionately impacted people of color. The Hyde Amendment contributes to income inequality and is a prime example of the economic and racial gaps perpetuated by the American health care system. Congress must repeal it immediately.

Rescue Title X from the Trump Administration, and fully fund it. The Title X family planning program was launched during the Nixon Administration to provide family planning services to low-income Americans, including birth control and screening for sexually transmitted infections or cancer. The Trump Administration has prohibited any Title X funding from being distributed to organizations that provide or make referrals for abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest, or a medical emergency. This change has ripped vital funding out of the hands of the providers who are most expert in reproductive health and has made accessing care harder for low-income patients. While Massachusetts has protected the recipients of Title X funds, this isn’t a national solution. A new Democratic president will be able to change these draconian rules but, in the absence of that leadership, Congress must do everything in its power to rescue Title X and restore its status as a program that makes reproductive health care easier for low-income people to access, not harder. Even with the Trump Administration’s backwards thinking about family planning off the table, work will remain. Congress must increase funding for Title X to keep up with demand, which has long been underfunded despite an increase in the need for the vital services covered by the program.

Keep federal money out of Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Recently, a California chain of crisis pregnancy centers applied for and received a $1.7 million federal Title X grant. Soon they will have the chance to renew to the tune of $5.1 million. Crisis pregnancy centers are fake health centers whose aim is to prevent people considering abortion care from receiving that care. They peddle in lies and misinformation about abortion care. Crisis pregnancy centers do not provide hormonal birth control. In fact, the California chain prescribes natural birth control — for example, the highly ineffective rhythm method — only. It is extremely troubling that these fake health centers have received Title X funds. People facing an unintended pregnancy need compassionate, fact-based counseling, not biased counseling, from crisis pregnancy centers. In Congress, I will fight to ensure that only licensed medical centers offering the full spectrum of contraceptive services are eligible for Title X funding.

Fund comprehensive sex education. There is no better investment in reproductive health than comprehensive, age appropriate, inclusive, and medically accurate sex education. We must promote evidenced-based comprehensive sex education that has been proven to increase safer sex and reduce unitended pregnancies. Research shows that abstinence-only education does not delay sexual initiation or reduce risky sexual behavior. Moreover, such a policy withholds critical information from young people, preventing them from making the best decisions they can about their health and bodies. In Congress, I will seek to increase funding of two Obama-era initiatives — the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program — that were created to help young people gain access to medically accurate sex education. And I will always work to ensure that any federal comprehesive sex education program places equity front and center, so that LGBTQ+ youth can learn in environments that are safe, supportive, and with materials that are inclusive of their experiences.

End the global gag rule. The global gag rule prevents foreign nonprofits and other non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. global health assistance from advocating for safe abortion services, providing legal abortion services, or offering advice on where to get an abortion — even when they use their own money to do so. This terrible policy, which has been reinstated and expanded by the Trump administration, jeopardizes the health and lives of poor women and girls, especially in countries where communities already struggle to access family planning services. In Congress, I will support the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act, which aims to stop this harmful global gag rule, and I will seek to restore American leadership on free speech and women’s health throughout the world.

Jesse Mermell

Written by

Candidate for Congress in #MA04. @AllianceBL , @PPAdvocacyMA & @DevalPatrick alum. Forever dog mom and Judy Garland fangirl. She/her/hers.

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