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At Event, Pro-Choice Advocates Plan to Battle High Court Decision

May 10, 2007 By:
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At the Planned Parenthood gathering are (from left) honoree Kimberly Oxholm, national president Cecile Richards, regional president Dayle Steinberg, and local author and program participant Jennifer Weiner.

Even as supporters of Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania sipped their fashionable cocktails and sampled spring rolls at a recent fundraiser for the organization, an undercurrent of palpable anger managed to bubble up every so often to disrupt the festive atmosphere.

That's because the organization's 11th Annual Spring Gathering -- held May 1 at the Academy of Natural Sciences on Logan Square -- came just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that left reproductive-rights advocates fuming. And it didn't take much to get these supporters, including several elected officials, to vent their frustration over it.

The 5-4 decision in Gonzales v. Cahart -- in which the Planned Parenthood national umbrella organization was a respondent -- upheld the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which outlaws the performance of a particular abortion procedure.

Proponents of the law consider the procedure -- which involves the partial removal of a fetus from the uterus -- immoral and inhumane. But opponents argue that there are times when that method is the safest option for the mother, and that the law represents a political intrusion into the medical arena.

During the reception, State Rep. Babette Josephs (D-District 182) blasted the court's decision. In an interview, Josephs promised to introduce legislation "to protect Pennsylvania women against this last Supreme Court ruling."

Of course, it's not clear how a state law could override a federal statute backed by a Supreme Court ruling.

State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-District 149) also hobnobbed with participants in the crowded Dinosaur Hall, and said the decision amounted to inappropriate government interference in what should be a medical decision. He's planning to introduce legislation in reaction to the ruling that would protect doctors administering, and patients receiving, treatment deemed medically necessary.

The event's guest speaker was Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, as well as daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who died last year. The younger Richards previously served as deputy chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), now Speaker of the House.

As part of the program, Richards was questioned by Philadelphia author Jennifer Weiner, a Planned Parenthood supporter. The first question focused on the implications of the new ruling.

"This was a wake-up-call for women and men around the country," said Richards, whose address came in the form of an onstage interview. "This is about the interests of woman's health against the interests of politicians."

Their back-and-forth touched on issues ranging from the efficacy of abstinence education to the controversial new vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus.

Richards also stressed that the umbrella group and its affiliates do far more than advocate for abortion rights.

The fundraiser also presented a lifetime achievement award to Kimberly Oxholm, a longtime board member of the local chapter, who insisted that "women cannot be equal citizens in this world if [they] do not have control over their bodies and reproductive rights."


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