Planned Parenthood rally draws 1,000 to convention center
May 14, 2016 12:42 PM
Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, speaks at the Power of Pink Planned Parenthood Action Fund National Membership rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.
By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Someone says it every four years: This may be the most important presidential election of a lifetime. But for reproductive-rights advocates, it may be true.
That’s why Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, appeared at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Saturday, telling an audience of pro-choice advocates that “Our pledge today is to fight for the right to reproductive health care for everyone. That's what this election is all about."
Ms. Richards’ appearance capped a two-day conference, titled “Power of Pink,” where nearly 1,000 abortion-rights supporters from 48 states gathered to discuss political strategies for 2016.
“For Planned Parenthood, there is really no alternative but victory,” said Sari Stevens, who heads the organization’s political advocacy arm in Pennsylvania. “The health of our 2.5 million patients rests on this election cycle.”
Planned Parenthood was threatened with the loss of federal funding last year, after being targeted with deceptively edited videos claiming the group illegally sold fetal tissue. Investigators have found no evidence of that. In Harrisburg and other state capitals, conservatives have sought to legislate abortion providers out of existence with more regulations.
This year, the group’s political arm hopes to turn the tide by turning out key Democratic constituencies: women, people of color, LGBT voters and young people. It would seem well positioned to deliver: 85 percent of Planned Parenthood health center patients are under age 30, and the centers are key health providers for lower-income women.
With people under 30 poised to become America’s largest voting bloc, “This generation has so much potential for political power,” said Erin Carhart, Planned Parenthood’s youth organizing manager.
Friday’s workshops addressed topics like speaking with the media and developing volunteer networks. Three-quarters of participants were under age 30, organizers said: One-third were non-white.
Organizers hope to link reproductive rights to other progressive causes, like the “Black Lives Matter” movement and a campaign for a $15 minimum wage. Young voters feel “reproductive freedom is tied up with liberating all the identities we’re talking about,” Ms. Carhart said.
That holistic thinking resonated with participants like University of Pittsburgh senior Kara Kloss. “I’m a big-idea person,” she said Friday. “And the presidential election is not the be-all and end-all. Local and state elections are important, too.”
Ms. Stevens said the conference was held in Pittsburgh partly to stress the importance of ousting Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., a staunch abortion foe.
Planned Parenthood endorsed Mr. Toomey's Democratic rival, Katie McGinty, last week. On Saturday, Mr. Toomey’s name drew boos even before a local abortion provider, Dr. Sheila Ramgopal, told the crowd that Mr. Toomey "has said he's open to putting doctors like myself into jail.” That was a reference to a 2009 interview in which Mr. Toomey said that “at some point,” doctors performing abortions “would be subject to that sort of penalty.”
But stakes are especially high in the presidential race, whose winner likely will choose at least one Supreme Court justice.
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump once supported abortion, and during his campaign has said Planned Parenthood does “wonderful things” by providing non-abortion services. But he now professes to oppose abortion rights, and has made repeated derogatory statements about women.
While Planned Parenthood endorsed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, many younger voters back Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “There were a lot of feels when we endorsed Hillary over Bernie,” said Jessica Semler, a Western Pennsylvania campus and grassroots organizer.
But reproductive-choice issues offer common ground for Democrats.
Marlon Marshall, a senior Clinton campaign staffer who addressed Saturday’s gathering, said Planned Parenthood’s efforts on Ms. Clinton’s behalf were “huge. They’ve been an awesome messenger for justice.” Ms. Clinton has long championed abortion rights, he said, and “We have to keep telling that story” to younger voters less familiar with it.
“We didn't all start out backing the same candidate,” Ms. Richards told the crowd. “But in the end we're all fighting for the same thing.”
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