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An exit interview with Sue Idtensohn of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando

Idtensohn talks contraception, empowerment and retirement amid the current political attacks on reproductive rights

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

What's your take on how a woman's reproductive freedom grew into the political monster it is at the moment?

I think it happened in 2010 when we had this group of people come into elected office, and they came in with specific guidelines about what they wanted to do. Not necessarily what their constituents wanted them to do, but if you remember correctly, they were riding on this wave; the Tea Party came in, banks were being bailed out, the government's spending too much money, unemployment is too high, ‘I'm losing my home.' But coupled with that was kind of this undercurrent of social issues. They always bring up abortion. They always bring up gay rights. Also, the last couple of months, we've had this whole debate on contraception. It's such a silly debate, because it's women's health care. It cuts across all religious barriers, it cuts across all ethnic barriers. They bring it forward, I think, because they can't fix the economy; they can't go ahead and rewrite the tax code so it makes sense; they can't do anything right now about trying to get the housing market back on some kind of even keel. I certainly think they are very upset that there's a Democrat in the White House and they are certainly upset that there's a black man who is president. I think gay rights issues have done very well – there have been a number of states that have passed gay marriage – but when it comes to women's issues, I think they feel like they can get away with it.

To me, I think the complacency we've seen in the younger generation about birth control has been directly challenged. It's been replaced by a digital riot. People want to be involved now.

For example, we had an escort training last week and we had 40 people sign up. A couple weeks prior to that, we had 30 show up. What that means is they're being trained to escort clients into Planned Parenthood. Young men, young women, old men, old women: It was awesome. They said, ‘I am so upset about the attacks. You guys have always been respectful of everyone else's opinion. You have not been out bashing people over the head with signs. You have been quietly competent and intelligent about how you're going about doing your business.'

Do you think that waning so-called radical feminism has allowed this latest round of scrutiny and attacks to sneak its way back in? I mean, if women just climb back into the reproductive closet, don't you just end up with a board of five religious men telling Congress how they think women should be treated? Do you think, in essence, that there's been a correction?

I do. I can see it a lot out at University of Central Florida. At our last event there, many of the people there were men. It's very interesting to me. When you talk to any of those women who are involved in our movement, they're really not into labels so much. They're into the fact that they feel they have the right to determine what happens to them, the right to determine who they want to hang out with, what kind of movements they want to support. It's very difficult to talk to a young woman and say, ‘Listen, abortion may be overturned,' because Roe is 39 years old. None of those women have ever been without the option of having a choice. I think what we did when we grew up, we kind of labeled people, or the media labeled us. They labeled us the feminists or feminazis, and I think they did that because they didn't know how to talk of us any differently. But now we are so part of the fabric of the country.

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