2007 Changemaker: Connie Perpich & Planned Parenthood

Because of Connie Perpich’s work this year, more low-income women have access to contraception. Photo by Eva Studena.

Because of Connie Perpich’s work this year, more low-income women have access to contraception. Photo by Eva Studena.

In Connie Perpich’s line of work, timing is everything. And after the 2006 elections, Perpich, who’s lobbied for Planned Parenthood for 22 years, thought the timing was right to push for an increase in funding for the state’s family planning clinics.

Perpich explained, “It had been obvious for many years that the clinics were really struggling.” Funding has remained stagnant or has decreased since 1998. “The whole family planning community had been working toward increasing the funding for years. We’d been talking to the Legislature and the governor’s office,” she said, adding that there were “great bills that went nowhere.” But the election results gave her hope that 2007 might be different.

As a result of the 2006 election, a majority of state senators supported Planned Parenthood, but it wasn’t certain that the same could be said for the House. “It was clear we could get [the legislation] through the Senate,” Perpich said. “No one thought we could get it through the House.”

Well, almost no one. With equal parts optimism and realism, Perpich started to talk to legislators about how 95 percent of the work the organization does is prevention-based. She worked with members of SAFPLAN, a coalition of Minnesota family planning agencies, and hatched a plan to sign on a majority of House members as co-authors of the family planning legislation, which would increase state funding to Planned Parenthood and 24 smaller clinics throughout the state. Perpich’s ingenious strategy was to include some Republican members who were not pro-choice on abortion rights but who supported family planning-something that proved to be a necessity when several pro-choice legislators she’d counted on shied away from putting their names on the bill. Her pitch to anti-choice legislators that family planning prevents abortions worked. When Perpich got up to 68 authors on the legislation (a majority), those reluctant pro-choice legislators hopped on board too and the glimmer of hope she’d held onto burst into full flame.

Perpich sat in conference committees (where members of both houses get together to reconcile differences in legislation passed in the House and Senate) and watched as Planned Parenthood’s three major initiatives got the go ahead from legislators. She joked, “I turned 60 during the conference committee, and at the same time [clinic funding was approved], senior nutrition funding was cut, and I wondered if I was working against my own best interests!”

Though Planned Parenthood didn’t get everything it wanted in the 2007 legislative session (the governor vetoed the sex ed bill, and it didn’t get all the funding requested), most of the money was approved, and Perpich, with characteristic modesty, reels off a list of names of people with whom she wants to share the credit-from a handful of legislators who kept faith to SAFPLAN members and the staff at Planned Parenthood who supported Perpich’s efforts, kept the issue in the press, and provided the resources needed to make a full-court press. It’s true that she didn’t act alone, and there is plenty of credit to go around. But the fact is that Perpich, more than any other person, is largely responsible for nearly $10,000,000 in funding for contraception for poor women and girls.

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Visit Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s website, www.plannedparenthoodadvocate.org for updates on issues and what you can do.