As an actress (Ghost Whisperer, CSI), stand-up comedian, author and host of the weekly iTunes podcast "Girl on Guy," Aisha Tyler wears many hats. You can add activist and advocate to that list.
On Saturday as part of the CBCF Annual Legislative Conference, Tyler is hosting the Planned Parenthood forum "African American Women and Reproductive Health Care Rights," along with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). This year Tyler was one of 50 celebrities, including Gabrielle Union and Gabourey Sidibe, to stand with Planned Parenthood and defend the organization from proposals in Congress to strip its federal funding.
Tyler spoke with The Root about why it's important to her to vocally support access to women's health, including abortion, her message for young women and why she "can't really bear" to watch Fox News.
The Root: Why did you decide to use your platform to push back against this year's rash of legislation against Title X funding and abortion access?
Aisha Tyler: I was disappointed and alarmed, and I wish I could say I was surprised by the newfound momentum among anti-choice advocates. I think any time Republicans get a foothold, they seize on this issue, despite the big problems we have in this country, because it strengthens their relationship with part of their base. But I've been pro-choice my whole life and had been working with Planned Parenthood for a long time, so it's not like all of a sudden I saw this happening and decided to get involved. I'd been involved for a while.
TR: With abortion being such a divisive topic, did you ever have any apprehension about taking a stand on the issue?
AT: I think there always is some apprehension if you're an artist, because you know you have fans that fall on both sides of the issue. But I think that a woman's right to choose is not only a fundamental right but critical to everything about the quality of life for women and children in this country. It was important to me to step forward.
The other thing is, Planned Parenthood isn't just about choice — it's about women's access to health care and women's control over making decisions about their health. That's a bigger decision and a bigger issue than just the right to have a legal abortion. When I was a kid, my dad didn't have health insurance, and I had to get a lot of my health care through the free-clinic system, and I went to Planned Parenthood for checkups.
Planned Parenthood is also about a woman's right to have access to birth control. That is something that is critical not just to adult women who are trying to have better control over their personal and financial destiny, but to the health of the families that they already have.
Hopefully what I'm doing, in standing up for women's rights, is making other women who are anxious or curious about this feel more emboldened to step forward as well. But I don't go around thinking, "I can reach one person, or 10 people or 100 people." It's more that I'm just speaking up for what I believe in.
TR: Even though this year was the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the same political fights are still going on. Do you feel that enough pro-choice women are engaged with this issue?
AT: For most young women, it's been legal for their entire lives. And most never think about having legal access to abortion until you need one, so unless you're really politically active, I'm sure some women are taking that for granted. I do think women are waking up.
But again, for all the women who maybe don't think of themselves as pro-life but aren't necessarily either worried about or fighting for women's access to abortion, what they don't realize is all of the other personal freedoms that can be eroded when legal abortion is taken away. That's something that I really try to focus on. The president said it during his campaign: We want to make abortion legal, safe and rare. The way to do that is to give women access to birth control and information.
TR: Speaking of the presidential campaign, I noticed your Tweet about the last Republican debate.
AT: [Laughs.] Yeah, I live-tweeted the one before that, but I couldn't bear this last one. I can't really bear to watch Fox News.
TR: What do you think of President Obama's chances at re-election against the current group of contenders?
AT: I don't really want to make any judgments until they've picked a candidate. What I will say is that I think the people in the field that the conservative base wants to do well are too conservative to win with the moderates that they need to win in a general election. But the president has a long slog ahead of him. Part of the reason his numbers are where they are is because of obstructionists on the other side, who have worked very hard to prevent him from having more success.
Then there are mistakes that he's made. No president's perfect, and I think he would be the first to admit that. But I think he's earnest and cares about the country and is working very hard to do the best job for America. As a country, we like our results to be "just add water." That's affecting the president negatively when he hasn't fixed every problem. But the way that the debate is being framed right now, for the most part, these people are too conservative or too ill-prepared or too crazy to win in a general election.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.