Too bad the turnout was so low at the local celebration of the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade Jan. 22 at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando. Arguably one of the most important Supreme Court decisions, Roe v. Wade opened the door for legal abortions, establishing the boundaries over which the government cannot step with regard to certain personal decisions about procreation, marriage and other aspects of family life.
Considering that privacy issues are big among anti-Bush forces, it was telling that only 60 or so people gathered to hear the program organized by Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, Inc. (www.ppgo.org). Even more telling was the fact that among those 60, only a dozen or so were women under the age of 40, or men. Never has the absence of young women from Central Florida's strapped-for-membership women's organizations been so painfully obvious.
It didn't help that the local media virtually ignored any advance on the event, even as headlines that week were devoted to pro-choice Mayor Buddy Dyer's so-called goof: signing his name to a "Life Is Precious Day" proclamation organized by pro-lifers. For the record, Dyer was there to prove his pro-choice conviction with TV cameras present.
A powerful and moving keynote speech by Sally Blackmun, daughter of Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored the controversial decision, hit its mark. The second-generation crusader for human rights just happens to be a local businesswoman and a board member of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando. (What a handy coup for Roe v. Wade events.) Blackmun focused her talk on the degradation of privacy, reading from the proposal for "The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back" (www.randomhouse.com/bantamdell), a book by Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parent-hood Federation of America. "The War on Choice" (due out in April) traces the backtracking of pro-choice issues and takes to task the politicians who let it happen.
Sue Idtensohn, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, didn't miss the opportunity to issue a rallying cry for women's organizations to unite in the pro-choice message, so essential in this election year. Attending the rally were representatives from the Central Florida chapter of the National Women's Political Caucus, the Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the National Organization for Women.
Two issues topped the activism agenda: organizing local participation in "The March for Women's Lives" (www.marchforchoice.org) April 25 in Washington, D.C.; and defeating a challenge to the state constitution over access to abortions without parental notification.
Perhaps most memorable, however, was the impromptu speech from a woman in the front row who identified herself as a founder of the local Planned Parent-hood. When Dyer left the microphone after his opening address, the woman picked it up and reminded the group that Dyer was a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood 10 years ago when the group was getting started here, "meeting in whispers, in an atmosphere of fear," she said. Dyer, she told the assembled, opened up his offices and his resources to what would become Planned Parenthood.
Already making his exit from the room, Dyer turned red and waved to the genuinely applauding pro-choicers and cameras, all the while looking like a rooster in a henhouse.