The political wing of Planned Parenthood on Tuesday announced an unprecedented voter-mobilization effort targeting the young, often low-income women who rely on the group's clinics for gynecological exams, birth control and abortion.
The nonprofit expects to raise at least $10 million over the next 10 months to recruit patients, as well as their friends and families, to lobby legislators and vote for candidates who support Planned Parenthood's agenda.
That agenda includes support for abortion rights, but the campaign will emphasize issues such as affordable contraception, comprehensive sex education in public schools and increased subsidies for Planned Parenthood's basic healthcare services, including pap smears, breast exams and HIV tests. Some of those services have been threatened by budget cuts at the state and federal levels.
"To do the work we need to do, we simply have to have change" in the political climate, said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
The campaign, called "One Million Strong," will be the group's most ambitious and expensive effort ever, Richards said. In 2004, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund spent about $7.5 million on advocacy.
Planned Parenthood's doctors will not directly ask patients to join the movement. But in the past, clinics have had considerable success getting patients to call legislators or send postcards to Congress simply by displaying political material in waiting rooms.
Other strategies include reaching out to young people at rock concerts and church services, canvassing door-to-door, and using MySpace and other social networking sites to identify supporters.
Planned Parenthood says it serves 5 million patients a year; 1 in 4 American women will visit a clinic at some point in her life.
Richards said she thought it would not be hard to persuade patients, who already trust Planned Parenthood with their healthcare, to follow the group's lead on political activism.
"People will come to know Planned Parenthood in an entirely different way," she said.
David O'Steen, who runs a major antiabortion campaign, said he was certain Planned Parenthood's drive would be well-funded. Still, he dismissed the group's talk of mobilizing more than a million voters in November. "They don't have the grass-roots base," he said. "They just don't."
Just a few months ago, O'Steen's National Right to Life Committee promised a massive grass-roots effort on behalf of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, a Republican candidate for president. Thompson dropped out of the race Tuesday after poor showings in early primaries.
But O'Steen promised renewed vigor from his volunteers during the general election season.
National Right to Life spent about $2 million in 2004. O'Steen would not divulge the group's budget for this campaign cycle.