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Betty Cockrum

Thrust into the national spotlight this summer when Indiana became the first state to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

AGE: 58  Gig: President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana

One of my favorite sayings is, “Politicians care about the next election. Leaders care about the next generation.”

I get to be one who cares about the next generation.

I began my political awakening in 1968. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, and we had the whole Democratic National Convention craziness that summer.

I was a charter subscriber to Ms. magazine, and Planned Parenthood was the first charitable organization that I ever made a donation to, back when I was 20.

It was a great progression in public healthcare policy that women could come out of back alleys. No matter what they do with laws in Indiana, or nationally, women will still figure out how to terminate pregnancies.

Especially in a poor economy, women in particular will sacrifice their healthcare in order to make sure there’s food in front of their little ones and a roof over their heads.

When Governor Daniels signed this defunding bill, the outpouring of donations was more than $100,000. I’d never seen anything like it.

When they say, well, keep your Medicaid money, just offload abortion—if women are seeking abortions in Indiana, I want them to be able to find a quality provider. It’s a constitutionally protected choice.

In government and politics, you have to sometimes compromise your soul. And that can be more wearing than fights like this one.

The biggest surprise is just how mean-spirited the anti-choice zealots can be. The worst, most threatening language I’ve ever heard in my life is from those people.

Do I fear for my safety? I’m alert. Sometimes I call it “frayed, but not afraid.”

The only time I considered quitting was when the protesters visited my home the first time. They called me Betty Cockroach.

They must not know that cockroaches survive nuclear war.

—as told to Kelly Kendall

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.