Congressman Brian Mast wants to defund Planned Parenthood. Dozens of his constituents on Tuesday said they would not stand for that.
Around 50 pro-Planned Parenthood residents from Mast’s district, Florida’s 18th, packed the hall outside his Port Saint Lucie office in city hall. Their goal was to pressure their Republican member of the House of Representatives to back off his anti-Planned Parenthood promises.
The group, mostly women, had no appointment. Mast was not in his office. His aides only learned that morning a crowd would show up. So attendees met with them instead, in groups of six.
“It seems to be he’s signifying his opinion on providing funding for lower-income women who need access to contraception, STD treatment and cancer screening,” said Laura Goodhue, of Jupiter, who runs advocacy for Florida’s Planned Parenthood chapters.
Goodhue was referring to House bill H.R.7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act. The bill would not defund Planned Parenthood, since in most cases federal law bans federal money from being spent on abortion. But to Goodhue, Mast’s vote shows he plans to target the organization. Plus his campaign website states he will “work hard to defund Planned Parenthood.”
Mast and the majority-Republican House passed H.R.7, which awaits action in the Republican-controlled Senate. Mast’s district has one Planned Parenthood clinic in Stuart.
Abortion accounted for three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services in 2014, the organization reported. Treating sexually transmitted diseases/infections and providing contraception accounted for 76 percent of its services.
Liberal organizers believe Mast’s district is not Republican enough that he can ignore them. Before the freshman Congressman won the seat in November with 54 percent of the vote, it was held by Democrat Patrick Murphy for two terms. Before that, it was held by Tea Party Republican Allen West. Instead of running for a third term, Murphy ran for Senate against Republican Marco Rubio and lost.
“At Allen West’s [town hall meetings], we’d ask if he was in favor of privatizing Medicare,” said Lisa Tilson, who works with retirees for the Service Employees International Union. “And he’d go on the record as saying ‘yes,’ and that made a lot of seniors in his district nervous,” she told the group huddled outside Mast’s office, “And guess who isn’t a Congressman anymore?”
Murphy beat West by less than 2,000 votes in 2012. Mast has not yet stated his position on privatizing Medicare. SEIU co-sponsored the Mast office rally, along with anti-Trump group Palm Beach Indivisibles, and South Florida Activism.
Jeanette Hartzan, a Port Saint Lucie retiree, felt unsatisfied after talking with Mast’s aides. “I don’t know if Mast will change his opinion based on his constituents’ concerns,” she said. “They have their party line, and that’s how they vote.” Hartzan said she has volunteered with Planned Parenthood for 30 years.
“People who don’t get preventative care” —like breast exams — “people end up very sick, in emergency rooms,” Hartzan said. Her opinion on Mast’s opinion on Planned Parenthood? “If you don’t want to support the health and social services people need, then you ought to be able to control the size of your family,” she said.
Outside city hall, a group of women discussed their grievances with the issue of the afternoon, along with the Republican party. Fort Pierce resident Felicia Bruce said she emailed Senator Rubio to complain about President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks.
“He wrote — or his aide wrote — ‘Every president has the right to appoint the cabinet the way they want.’ I said, ‘I wish you felt that way about Obama!’” she told the other women, who laughed. “I know!” one said.
Bruce said she would vote for Mast in 2018 if he changed his positions on defunding Planned Parenthood, disempowering public schools, and repealing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. “From our point of view, every child has a right to an education, safe environment and proper nutrition,” she said in her Northeastern accent. “And if we can’t provide that, we shouldn’t explode the population for the sake of having babies. The fetus is potential life, the mother is already here. You can’t say I control everything but my uterus.”
Mast is scheduled to hold a town hall with constituents Friday at 1 p.m. at the Havert L. Fenn Center at 2000 Virginia Avenue in Fort Pierce. Constituents who want to attend can RSVP on Mast’s Congressional website.