10/23/2006 02:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Heart of the Heartland, 2006

This year's midterm elections are about one thing -- change. We have all heard the refrain: Americans don't think we are moving in the right direction. Ask almost anyone except House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the president's dog, Barney, and they will tell you that this country is on the wrong track. But it's not just the usual suspects who feel this way. No, this sentiment is coming straight from the heart of America's heartland and it is gunning for the heart of the Republican agenda.

For the last six years, we have witnessed a series of calculated attacks on women's rights, some subtle and some not so subtle, like South Dakota's total abortion ban, launched by an aggressive anti-choice movement with powerful allies in every branch and level of government. But now, voters across the country are recognizing the importance of the pro-prevention framework that protects women's health and safety.

I believe that Election Day is just the beginning. We, as a nation, are shifting away from such an extreme, ideological approach to women's health. As America takes these steps forward, Planned Parenthood will be there to light the way, along with the legislators and health care providers that are fighting to protect women's rights and health.

America's heartland has too often been dismissed as difficult political terrain for organizations like Planned Parenthood. But this isn't the first time that conventional political wisdom has been wrong. Planned Parenthood delivers health services and education to nearly five million people every year through more than 860 health centers throughout the country. We're there in the bluest of blue states and the reddest of red ones. And our daily experiences from around the country tell us that American women share common experiences and values whether they are in Massachusetts or Montana, Alaska or Alabama, North Carolina or New Hampshire.

And this is why voters in key heartland states are getting the message about women's health and safety. In Ohio, anti-choice gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell (R), who said he would sign an abortion ban even more extreme than South Dakota's, is trailing pro-choice candidate Ted Strickland (D) by 27 points, according to the most recent Quinnipiac University poll. In Kansas, Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D) is enjoying a wide lead over Republican challenger Jim Barnett due, in no small measure, to her commonsense approach to governing, including a pro-choice, pro-prevention position. And equally as important, she is paving the way in a state that voted nearly two to one for President Bush in 2004 for the election of moderate, pro-choice representatives, like Mark Parkinson, a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, who is running for lieutenant governor as a Democrat, and Paul Morrison, a former Republican who switched parties to run for Attorney General against Republican Phill Kline, infamous for his pursuit of the names of abortion clinic patients. And in Arizona, pro-choice Governor Janet Napolitano is enjoying a comfortable lead over anti-choice Len Munsil (R), who believes "that it is the role of government to protect human life," with an advantage of more than two to one, according to a Northern Arizona University poll.

It is more than just exciting that these mainstream, pro-choice candidates are pulling away from hardliners in their races and that the pro-choice groundswell continues to build in the battleground states, like South Dakota -- it is monumental. We are at a pivotal moment in the fight for women's rights and if we allow the anti-choice movement to continue to chip away at these rights, we, as a nation, stand to loose some of the basic freedoms protected by our Constitution. It is Planned Parenthood's intention to harness the momentum brewing in the heartland by playing both offense against anti-choice groups and their political sponsors, and defense by supporting the candidates, health care providers, and lawyers, who are working to protect the common values of American women.

We are for powerful, popular ideas like support for family planning, protecting women's health, educating teens, and reducing unintended pregnancies. These are also mainstream American values, embraced from Akron to San Francisco to Topeka. Although right-wing groups claim that we're the ones swimming against the tide of public opinion, the truth is these groups are losing popular support in the heartland. Politicians and their supporters who oppose these mainstream objectives are the ones who are out of touch with Americans, and we intend to hold them accountable for their extreme agenda.

In the end, our aim is simple: to create a world in which women can make the necessary choices to protect their health and to enjoy successful, productive lives. And I am proud to say that this is the change coming straight out of the heart of the heartland.

Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.