FOCUS 54: A Republican Conference on Women Live Blog

Check here for hourly updates including pictures, quotes, and panel summaries from today’s FOCUS 54: A Republican Conference on Women presented by Republican Majority for Choice! We’re bringing this meeting of the most influential and passionate Real Republicans in America to you so check out today’s schedule below and stay tuned!

10:36 am – The tables are set with RMC notepads and handouts on the “Key Points about Contraception” and attendee packets are filled to the brim. More and more mainstream Republicans are arriving by the minute!

11:00 am – FOCUS 54 KICK OFF Opening Remarks from Kellie Ferguson, ED, RMC
11:01 am – RMC Executive Director Kellie Ferguson starts off FOCUS 54 with an introduction to Republican Majority for Choice’s long-term goals, as well as thanking all of the partner organizations with us today!

11:05 am – 11:55 am The Politics of Prevention
Introduce the goals of the conference with a presentation from RMC & The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Andrea Kane and Rachel Fey from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy are set to speak!
11:23 am – 68% of Republicans think policymakers who are opposed to abortion should be strong supporters of birth control because prevention is an effective way to reduce the incidence of abortion. In fact, providing one woman with publicly funded birth control costs the country $239, while one Medicaid covered birth costs $12,770. Now that’s even more evidence that birth control is fiscally conservative.
11:44 am – Attendees discuss the prospects of Republicans taking over the Senate in 2014 and how extreme positions on women’s reproductive health will affect our chances in 2016. During the Q&A after the “Politics of Prevention” panel, our presenters are answering the hard questions about the consequences of over-the-counter birth control, personhood amendments, and reduction in Title X funding.

12:00 pm – 1:15 pmConference Luncheon
We are honored to be joined by Congressman Richard Hanna (NY-22) as the keynote speaker and to have the opportunity to present awards to North Dakota State Representative Kathy Hawken and Oklahoma State Representative Doug Cox, M.D.

1:05 pm – Congressman Richard Hanna says “I’m all in” for women’s healthcare and explains his belief in “the notion that if you were a Republican and a conservative it meant minding your own business and not other peoples’ business.” After Hanna told attendees that the GOP knows they are losing women and that it’s important to let elected Republicans know that pro-choice Republicans are here, Congressional candidate Megan Rath asked how to get young women more involved in and excited about the Republican party.
1:15 pm – State Representatives Stephanie Clayton and Barbara Bollier share their stories of winning tough Republican primaries while openly protecting and advocating for women’s reproductive rights!
1:21 pm – RMC Co-Chair Susan Bevan explains that we are all pro-life but they are not pro-choice before awarding Oklahoma State Representative Doug Cox the Ford Visionary Award. Rep. Cox then shared his experiences being the only pro-choice Republican in the Oklahoma’s State legislature and asked “How can we be the party of less government if we put the government in the exam room right in between my patient and I?”
1:32 pm – North Dakota State Representative Kathy Hawken accepted the Dina Merrill Choice Award! A proud advocate of women’s rights with a 100% voting record on women’s reproductive rights, she exclaimed “I’m pro-life AND I vote pro-choice.”
[from left to right] RMC Co-Chair Candace Straight, State Representative Kathy Hawken, State Representative Doug Cox, RMC Co-Chair Susan Bevan

1:30 pm – 2:15 pm – First Panel: Make a WISH (Women in the Senate and House)
Goal: Discussion about lagging number of women in political office and the importance of evening the playing field and growing representation.
Candace Straight, RMC National Board Co-Chair, Moderator
Marni Allen, Director, Political Parity
Debbie Walsh, Director, Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University
Betsy Mullins, President & CEO, Women’s Campaign Fund

WE’RE ASKING YOU TO GET INVOLVED IN THIS PANEL! Tweet us at @gopchoice or visit our Facebook page with your questions during this panel and we’ll get your questions answered by the experts.

1:46 pm – Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, shared some interesting research on the state of women in politics today, but is hopeful that campaign support throughout the election process beyond just asking female candidates to run is what actually makes the difference in a winning campaign. She then emphasized it is important to not discourage women from running for higher level elected office by telling them to “aim low” and run for a local office first instead.
2:04 pm – Marni Allen, director of Political Parity explains that infrastructure, indifference, and ideology are the three barriers to electing Republican women.
2:12 pm – Betsy Mullins, president and CEO of Women’s Campaign Fund, reminds the attendees that WCF was founded primarily by Republican women and “that is a tradition [she] thinks we should all embrace.” Research shows that voters respect when women speak out against sexist remarks and harassment. Mullins explained that years of negative, sexist rhetoric about institutions with strong female leaders has diminished public opinion of strong women and discouraged great female leaders who would consider running.
2:20 pm – In response to a question about the Republican party’s work with female candidates, RMC Co-Chair Candace Straight tells attendees it is important to do this recruiting and campaign support on a statewide candidate level. She states that this year 17 Democratic women ran for open seats and 17 Republican women. 11 Democratic women and only 7 Republicans won the open seat primaries, but 10 of the Democrats are running in Democratic districts and only 3 of the 7 Republicans are running in Republican districts. Candace Straight emphasizes that sometimes the numbers may be deceiving when Republican women actually do not receive the same level of support as male candidates or run in favorable districts.
2:37 pm – Megan Rath, congressional candidate, shares her story of lagging financial and political support in the beginning of her campaign and how Republican Majority for Choice and National Women’s Campaign Fund’s support has improved her visibility and national reception as a pro-choice Republican woman running against an incumbent in a heavily Democratic district.

2:30 pm – 3:15 pmSecond Panel: Finding Solutions
Goal: Gain understanding as to how we as mainstream activists can shift the tides and make incremental changes to promote smarter and fairer reproductive health policy.
Honorable Nancy Johnson, Former Congresswoman for Connecticut’s Fifth District, Moderator
Amy Friedrich-Karnik, Federal Policy Advisor, Center for Reproductive Rights
Dr. Hal Lawrence, EVP & CEO, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
State Representative Kathy Hawken, North Dakota Legislature, District-46
Adam Hepburn, Deputy Chief of Staff & Legislative Director, Congressman Richard Hanna

2:51 pm – Former congresswoman Nancy Johnson begins her moderation of this panel by sharing her experience as a legislature dealing with anti-choice Republicans. On the House floor, she said “I am the conservative here” because she “not only believe[s] the government should not intrude in our personal lives but [she] acts it.”
3:00 pm – Amy Friedrich-Karnik of the Center for Reproductive Rights tell attendees that the most effective opposition to TRAP laws is having a dialogue with your local state representatives. She then endorsed the Peace Corps Equity Act which would allow women in the Peace Corps to receive abortion coverage for pregnancies arising from rape or incest or that endanger the woman’s life. More than three in five Peace Corps volunteers are women, yet the Peace Corps is one of the only federal agencies that does not cover this constitutional right for its employees. Over the counter birth control was addressed by Amy as well.
3:09 pm – Dr. Hal Lawrence adamantly stated “we don’t need third parties interfering with the doctor-patient relationship.” He also informed attendees that a colonoscopy is forty times riskier than abortions, which is yet another reason that TRAP laws are not only unacceptable but unnecessary. Dr. Lawrence addressed over the counter birth control as well, explaining that “ACOG supports over the counter birth control but there are many hurdles before we reach this.” In his explanation of his support for contraception, he cited the negative consequences of unplanned pregnancies and state that if contraception was over the counter it could save this country 2 billion dollars in healthcare costs.
3:21 pm – State Representative Kathy Hawken encourages citizens to hold their legislatures accountable. Get their names! Call their offices! Let them know how you feel about how they vote! She shared a story about a 92 year old nurse who hand wrote her a letter with a thank you post card from Republican Majority for Choice.
3:27 pm – Adam Hepburn gave his advice on making yourself heard to your congresspeople. He said make yourselves available early and bring statistics, facts, and personal stories that help humanize the real world ramifications of the issues!
3:36 pm – Former State Representative Kerri Bickford from Maine shares her experiences as a pro-choice legislature who used bipartisanship to make the Republican voice heard in a liberal state.
3:41 pm – Karen James, RMC Board member, asks how we should change the conversation about abortion and combat anti-choice disinformation. In response, Kathy Hawkens explains “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts” and Dr. Hal Lawrence gives interesting statistics on the reality of the continuum of pregnancy and reproduction. Amy Friedrich-Karnik encourages pro-choice Republicans to reclaim the value space and brand ourselves as the people who care about women’s health and safety.
3:48 pm – Darlee Crockett from Republicans for Planned Parenthood asks about the legislative role that organizations focused on getting the facts about abortion can play in the future of pro-choice politics.

3:30 pm – 4:15 pmThird Panel: Choices and the Courts, the Next Frontier
Goal: Highlight the courts as the new playing field for anti-choice activism and discuss repercussions of Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, ramifications of the decision on religious liberties and how people of faith approach issues of reproductive choice.
Susan Bevan, RMC National Board Co-Chair, Moderator
Nancy Northup, President & CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights
Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice
Reverend Harry Knox, President & CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

4:02 pm – Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, gives the constitutional history of reproductive rights and puts it in perspective! She said unlikely allies and mainstream medicine are necessary voices when battling for reproductive rights in the courts and reminded attendees that we must be in the fight for the “long haul”.
4:15 pm – Reverend Harry Knox of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice explained the importance of faith language in the debate over women’s reproductive health. He encouraged attendees and pro-choice Republicans everywhere to use RCRC as a resource! He explained that his father supports abortion rights because of “a deep sense of conservatism” and belief in personal choice.
4:26 pm – Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, reminds attendees of the history of the Republican party’s support of contraception and reproductive choice. Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr., and Richard Nixon are among the many mainstream Republicans who we often forget supported reproductive. In closing, O’Brien stated “I’d like to work with you to continue to challenge the Obama administration as they make concessions to religious extremists.”
4:47 pm – Jon O’Brien and Reverend Harry Knox respond to a question from RMC Co-Chair Candace Straight.
4:55 pm – Randy Moody, a Republican for 50 years and Co-Chair of Republicans for Planned Parenthood, discussed his experiences as a pro-choice Catholic. He brought up his frustration with religious extremism. Reverend Harry Knox then reminded attendees that it is important to enter a conversation with the other side. He said, however, “the only reason to have this conversation with someone who is anti-choice is to be overheard by someone who is in the middle.”

4:30 pm – 5:30 pm – Next Steps: Now That We Know — What Can We Do?
Brainstorming Session on next steps, strategy of a nationwide network to connect pro-choice and GOP groups from across the country. Discuss the creation of a national coordinated effort and information sharing network. Dialogue on the use of social media for rapid membership activation.

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