Last Tuesday night, I rewatched the Parks and Recreation episode where the main character, Leslie Knope, tries to add fluoride to the city’s water. But her city council nemesis blocks her efforts and instead proposes that a sweet sugary drink (“Drink-ems”) should replace their water supply. Even though Leslie’s plan was supported by the facts (like fluoride is not a threatening chemical and that sugar drinks will harm the city’s population), they didn’t get her anywhere. In the end, she was successful only because she dropped the facts and instead made fluoride into something else that was “cool” (“H2-FLOW”).

It was a hilarious episode. But what was supposed to be just satire turned into real life for me the very next day.

How My Life Became Leslie Knope’s

Last Wednesday, I attended a 4-hour Judiciary committee hearing in the House of Representatives. The hearing was ostensibly about the committee’s investigation into Planned Parenthood. But I think we all figured out pretty quickly that the hearing was really about something else once the Members and the witnesses started talking.

This hearing turned out to be my Drink-ems episode. Except—and this is where things really get serious—this is real life, with real life implications for the future of women’s reproductive rights.

For four hours, the majority-party members of the committee—all men but one, and only the men spoke—huffed and puffed against abortion, birth control, women’s health, and Planned Parenthood. The goal of this hearing was not to reveal any facts, but instead to advance the extreme campaign to take away a woman’s right to make decisions about her own reproductive health care.

In attacking Planned Parenthood, the anti-abortion/anti-birth control members have three goals:

1)      Force the passage of an unconstitutional law that would ban abortions;

2)      Shut down Planned Parenthood;

3)      Distract the public from the real pressing concerns facing our nation, including funding the government and dealing with sequestration, which is set to impose devastating automatic budget cuts to critical federal programs in 2016. If sequestration isn’t stopped, these members actually get what they want – a drastically reduced federal government that is unable to meet the needs of its residents.

Who Needs Facts When Women’s Reproductive Health Is At Stake?

It seems that when it comes to women’s reproductive health, everyone is an expert except the woman and her provider. Here is the brief rundown of some of the “Drink-ems anti-facts” during the hearing:

  • “Birth control doesn’t prevent unintended pregnancy” (ahem, looking at you Representative Sensebrenner (R-WI).  Maybe he should talk to a woman, really any woman, about whether this is a real fact or Drink-ems fact.  Also, Rep. Sensenbrenner didn’t know that women who are already mothers also visit Planned Parenthood.
  • One representative, Representative Ratcliffe (R-TX), said “I don’t know Planned Parenthood” but felt confident enough to bash it and was sure of the fact that other providers could offer the same services as Planned Parenthood.
  • Representative Gohmert (R-TX) railed against Planned Parenthood because it doesn’t offer mammograms. This one particularly irks me. If you are an actual person who has gone for an annual well-woman visit, you know that the first step for a breast exam is a physical exam. If there is something that concerns the provider, you could be referred to a mammogram. That’s what preventive health care is – determining whether your health is in check or whether you need to explore in more detail a particular health issue. Do you think Rep. Gohmert thinks I could also get birth control or an STI screening from a mammogram?

These “Drink-ems anti-facts” just give more support to the point that politicians aren’t medical experts and this is an area where they shouldn’t be meddling.

The Danger Zone We Are Headed Into

Leaving facts by the wayside, these anti-women’s health politicians are duping the public with their “Drink-ems proposals”:

The first Drink-ems is that other health care providers will fill the void left if Planned Parenthood was shut down. But the facts just aren’t there to support this claim. As the Guttmacher Institute has so clearly explained: “In two-thirds of the 491 counties in which they are located, Planned Parenthood health centers serve at least half of all women obtaining contraceptive care from safety-net health centers. In one-fifth of the counties in which they are located, Planned Parenthood sites are the sole safety-net family planning center.”

The second Drink-ems is that banning abortion helps women. Setting aside the very large elephant in the room that the very same members pushing this ban have taken many votes on bills that would hurt women (including one that would allow bosses to fire women for their reproductive health care decisions), this Drink-ems is especially dangerous. By banning abortions, these politicians won’t get what they want. Women won’t stop having abortions just because it is illegal, criminal, or harder to access. Instead, they will be forced into desperate and dangerous situations. The other side likes to pretend that abortions only happen because they are allowed. That’s their Drink-ems. Ban it, and it will stop. But actually, it’s the opposite. Ban it, and women will die.

We can’t be duped by their Drink-ems. We can’t let them control our lives with their falsehoods. And we can’t let them distract us from the real problems our country is facing.

Let’s Make This a Leslie Knope Win

Not all is lost, remember Leslie Knope won in the end using a little creativity. And now we all have our Leslie Knope moment (a dear friend told me once that I reminded her of Leslie Knope, which I clearly took as a compliment). We can win this. But Congress needs to hear from you.

Seriously. This is not a drill.

Take the moment, call, email, tweet, whatever, and tell your members of Congress – you’re over it. You’re done with this charade and you reject their Drink-ems. Tell them to stop their shenanigans that hurt women’s health.

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