Activists use attacks on abortion, planned parenthood as 2012 mobilizing tool

Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Copyright © 2011 Sun-Sentinel

Updated at 11:38 a.m. Liberals and abortion rights activists are mobilizing.

They’ve been under siege for much of 2011 as Republicans in the U.S. House and newly in control of more state governments (including enhanced numbers in Florida) attempt to make abortions more difficult and expensive. They’ve also gone after Planned Parenthood, a symbol of abortion darkness to people on the right and a beacon of hope for many on the left.

After fighting battles in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., for months, supporters of Planned Parenthood and abortion rights are coming together.

About 125 people, mostly women, representing a coalition of about 30 groups from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami Dade counties gathered Tuesday night at the Fort Lauderdale Women’s Club. Political leaders and Planned Parenthood officials stoked outrage and pushed them to stay informed and involved through the 2012 elections.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, Wasserman Schultz was 6 when Roe versus Wade, the Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right for a woman to have an abortion, was decided.

”This year we’ve experienced some of the most severe attacks on women’s rights since Roe versus Wade,” she said. “Never in my life have I felt that my constitutional rights were more threatened as a woman than I do today. So I’m fighting.”

Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, said voters last year wanted government at all levels to work on fixing the economy. “The 2010 midterm elections were not a mandate to pursue a radical, rightwing social agenda.”

She and state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, described efforts to fight abortion restrictions during this year’s legislative session.

One bill, which Rich said was defeated, would have required prison time for any physician performing an abortion. Sobel said people should expect similar legislative proposals next year.

Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who represents northwest Broward, detailed attempts in Congress to take money away from Planned Parenthood programs pay for health care, not abortions.

”Planned Parenthood is a vital component of our nation’s health care fabric and one that we can’t afford to lose,” Wasserman Schultz said. Deutch said it’s an issue that doesn’t just affect women.

Wasserman Schultz said attempts to restrict abortion and take money away from Planned Parenthood are backfiring. “All across the country we’re winning,” she said.

”We are winning over the hearts and minds of voters across the county. People are waking up everywhere and realizing these extreme policies do not represent what the American people want.”

Wasserman Schultz, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, wants to mobilize activists for 2012.

”Elections have consequences. So let’s keep the heat on. Let’s keep talking to our friends and families and neighbors. Let them know about these extreme policies and just who is supporting them.”

Lillian A. Tamayo, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast, had a similar message.

”There is a war that’s been declared on women in this country,” Tamayo said. “This coalition, this community, this audience is watching and taking names.”

A slew of Democratic politicians and activists were present, including state Reps. Lori Berman of Delray Beach, Gwyndolen “Gwyn” Clarke-Reed of Deerfield Beach, and Hazelle Rogers of Lauderdale Lakes and Palm Beach County Democratic Party leaders Mark Alan Siegel, the chairman, and Bunny Steinman, the state committeewoman.

Among the groups involved in the effort are the National Council of Jewish Women, the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, National Organization for Women chapters in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Coconut Creek Democratic Club, the Compass gay and lesbian community center in Palm Beach County, Democratic Women’s Club of Northeast Broward, Equality Florida and Nova Southeastern University Medical Students for Choice.