Inside Planned Parenthood’s push to stall a Supreme Court pick

The organization moved quickly after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last Friday to remind the public what’s at stake.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

After learning about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last Friday, reproductive-rights group Planned Parenthood wasted no time arguing its point against pushing ahead with nominating her replacement.

“The news hit everyone really hard Friday night,” says Melanie Newman, SVP of communications and culture for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the organization's advocacy and political arm.

Within two hours, the group issued a statement from its president and CEO, Alexis McGill Johnson, about Ginsburg’s death, her legacy to women and the importance of upholding and cherishing that legacy. 

By midday Saturday, an op-ed by Johnson was published in Rolling Stone, titled, “May her memory be a movement.” The guest column was picked up by Yahoo News and news aggregator websites. On Monday, it was the No. 3 article on Cision, Newman says. 

Planned Parenthood decided to pitch the op-ed to Rolling Stone due to its large readership and social media presence.

“It was a great fit for us because of the audience they reach,” says Newman. “This helped us amplify and get a piece out early and set the stage for the narrative we are going to drive.” 

Planned Parenthood also went on social media with initial graphics in tribute to Ginsburg.

Sunday evening, Planned Parenthood, in partnership with political organizations Supermajority and Women’s March, hosted a virtual conference call for supporters that had 60,000 unique views. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) joined the call. During that briefing, the organization previewed a video it released this week in tribute to Ginsburg with the message, “All rise for justice.”

“That is the message we are carrying through this nomination fight,” says Newman.

Newman says her creative and brand strategy team is building and developing “message frames” for the moment. To come up with the “all rise for justice” theme, they took a common refrain from courtrooms, which is that everyone must rise when the judge arrives.

“We turned that into what we believe will be a rallying cry through this nomination fight,” says Newman. “We will all rise for justice in this moment, we will rise for reproductive healthcare access, racial justice, immigration, abortion access and Ginsburg’s legacy in this moment.”

She adds that the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and its 16 million supporters “will not stop” until this nomination is delayed “and the new president is inaugurated.

Ginsburg’s death sets up a critical political fight for both sides in the closing days of the 2020 presidential election, as a conservative pick by President Donald Trump could swing the direction of the High Court decisively to the right. Republicans have vowed to move swiftly to fill the seat, with Trump scheduled to announce his pick on Saturday afternoon. 

However, filling Ginsburg’s seat comes with substantial political risk for Republicans, with polls showing the public preferring the choice be left to the winner of the November election. 

Abortion and women’s reproductive rights are sure to be among the most-discussed topics during the confirmation process, as a more conservative court could take up legal challenges to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. 

On Tuesday, the organization’s political arm, Planned Parenthood Votes launched an ad titled, Protect Justice Ginsburg’s Legacy Protect the People’s Seat.

“The ad was launched in key presidential battleground states including Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida and Michigan,” says Newman. “Planned Parenthood Votes will run this ad in Michigan on digital platforms and the ad will extend to other battleground states in the days ahead.” 

Planned Parenthood has a unique role to play in the fiercely partisan battle over whether Trump should replace Ginsburg with his own pick with just six weeks left until the election. 

“With Planned Parenthood health centers being a trusted healthcare provider and messenger, our political supporters want to hear from us and we are ensuring our messages meet this moment and resonate with our audience,” says Newman. “We want people to know and we believe people know in this moment that they have a voice. We want to make sure we lift that up while we also honor [Ginsburg’s] legacy.”

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is also urging people to call senators to vote. “We know our supporters are engaged and fired up,” says Newman. 

Her team has three specific goals:

First, the organization wants to make sure it honors Ginsburg’s legacy and educate people on the work she has done. 

“We want people to know what she did to ensure that women have equal access to the workplace and have equal access and protection under the law, even in the doctor’s office,” says Newman. “We want to make sure the public knows all the ways Ginsburg was critical to the way that women exist in the world today.”

The organization wants to highlight what is at stake if a conservative Supreme Court justice is picked to fill Ginsburg’s seat, such as continued access to reproductive and other types of healthcare. The High Court is scheduled to hear the latest constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act just a week after the presidential election, and a right-leaning pick could push the balance of the Court in favor of repeal.  

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund believes it is important to maintain full and broad access to healthcare and maintain access to reproductive health and rights.

“We are making clear the stakes of this nomination,” says Newman.

The organization is also reassuring patients that Planned Parenthood health centers are open and they can be counted on for sexual and reproductive healthcare needs.

“We are working with our affiliates across the country to provide patient reassurance with messaging, digital assets and comms tools they can use to communicate to health center patients day-to-day so they know the doors to Planned Parenthood health centers are open,” says Newman. 

Although Planned Parenthood works with several PR firms, its in-house team is working on this effort. 

“We have 70 people [internally] representing traditional media relations, digital content, social media campaigns, supporter engagement, brand and culture strategy, corporate engagement and editorial,” Newman says.  

Representatives from Americans United for Life, Pro-Life Action League and National Right to Life did not respond to inquiries seeking comment.

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