Voices Online Edition
Vol. XVIII: No. 3 - Michaelmas 2003
My Lunch with Planned Parenthood
Sherry Tyree is vice-president and a founding member of Women for Faith & Family. She has taught in public and private schools in St. Louis. Mrs. Tyree has also contributed op-ed columns to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She is married to Donald Tyree, retired professor at the St. Louis University School of Business.
My husband and I were in Longboat Key, Florida, whiling away a much-awaited holiday with our English friends Diane and Bernard Wilson: sun, sand, the simple life -- a getaway. Then I made the mistake of reading an ad in the island weekly, The Longboat Observer: "Longboat Key Democratic Club Presents Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. Topic: President Bush's War On Women. Date: May 13, 2003, Noon".
Was the good Lord sending me an invitation? I said a prayer and decided to attend, and Diane said she'd come with me. "I'm afraid I'll cry", she said, "but I'll come".
So we made the phone call, paid the $18 for lunch, arrived at 11:30, donned the name tags, and took a big breath as we entered the room. The interior of the room was the usual, unremarkable hotel meeting-space with 10 tables of 8, all soon filled. We sat at a table in the back, the better to observe, the better to exit quickly. Our tablemates, who soon arrived, each one alone, were a quiet bunch. No one seemed to know one another or to care to get to know anyone.
"Mrs. Lido", to Diane's left and later "Ms. Luncheon Coordinator" (Ms. LC) to my right were the only ones to make an effort at chatting with us. They made small talk about St. Louis and a mutual acquaintance involved in Planned Parenthood. (My non-sectarian private school education finally came in handy!)
Mrs. Lido found us "enterprising" to have come to the talk. She didn't ask embarrassing questions, nor did anyone else. All presumed we were Democrats and/or pro-choice. The small talk among the four of us included cultural issues, zeroing in on libraries, authors and books, a very easy conversation.
As we looked about us, we saw that all the attendees were up in years (we were among the youngest at 60). All the women were nicely dressed and apparently well educated.
Everyone dived into her salad upon sitting at table; there was no waiting for others to arrive before eating. No grace, of course. Again, little small talk or attempt to chat, quite a contrast to our pro-life luncheon tables where there is a babble of talk, animation, interest in others.
The lecture moderator, a 90-year-old man who introduced the speaker, came out swinging. He not only gave it to President Bush for his "War On Women" but he also made a few gratuitous remarks about "Bush's war on Iraq". I leaned, puzzled, to Ms. LC and asked, "Would everyone in this room be in agreement with him on the war?" "About 50%", she said.
Ms. Zdravecky, the speaker, proceeded to give a fast-paced, talk full of facts, figures, statistics and unexamined assumptions. Ms. Z -- who said, "I know all of you read the Times" -- saw no need to introduce the fact that at this juncture the future doesn't look good for Planned Parenthood (PP) and abortion rights. She rightly assumed her audience had been told the "bad news".
She made many mistakes in her talk, for starters calling George Bush the worst president for "women's rights" in the history of the country. (Does she not know President Theodore Roosevelt thought contraception akin to murder, never mind abortion?) She bemoaned our backward "Puritan" country and its high teen-pregnancy rate, compared to the progressive Europeans who have no such problems. (Diane observed to our tablemates that the teen pregnancy rate in Great Britain is "appalling".)
Both Ms. Z and our nearest tablemates stated that American TV sex is over the top -- a scandal. But there was no suggestion whatsoever that permissive abortion "rights" could possibly have contributed to the problem.
Ms. LC mentioned Joe Simonetta, a Democratic candidate for US Congress. who was in the room shaking every hand he could find. She gave me the background on the particular seat he wants, Florida's 13th Congressional District. Seems it had been held by a "good" Democrat until the November 2002 election, when the Democrat, a woman, refused to take on former Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris (now a US representative). "No one would take on Katherine Harris", whispered Ms. LC, "Everyone was afraid of her".
Meanwhile, Ms. Z's lecture droned on and we were told that Planned Parenthood -- "which isn't all about abortion though the public seems to think it is" -- has close to 1,000 clinics and that one-quarter of American women will have used PP services at one time or another. We learned that in Florida 30% of all abortions now take place thanks to the abortifacient drug RU-486.
Ms. Z explained that Planned Parenthood has three departments, the third of which is Public Affairs. But all is not well in Public Affairs, which, she said, is "pretty dismal". She linked the "dismal" public affairs problem with the fact that Florida PP has lost federal Title 10 government funding --a loss she attributes to the belief that Planned Parenthood is involved only in abortion.
But other sad statistics and facts were forthcoming. In addition to the "startling" November election results -- and undoubtedly because of them -- Planned Parenthood finds it necessary to spend much time setting up various "Republicans for Choice" centers around the United States. Ms. Z thinks the fires should be lighted under the Democratic clubs around the country as well.
The Centers for Disease Control, she told us, has developed "moralistic tones", rather than sticking to straight science. Ms. Z skirted around the breast cancer/abortion link, though she was implicitly referring to it.
The most entertaining of her "sad" statistics -- surely there must be a prize for this -- is this: "unqualified, ultra-conservative judges" must be rejected because "they create law"!
Ms. Z announced that PP, NARAL (formerly National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), NOW (National Organization for Women) and others will be "taking back the streets" with a March on Washington, Sunday, April 24, 2004. And, of course, she ended by asking for donations to Planned Parenthood.
At question time, I discovered the downside of sitting at the back of the room: the 90-year-old Bush basher MC had a hard time seeing my hand raised. The first question set the tone: "What is wrong with all these young women today not supporting abortion rights?" Ms. Z responded with a long statement about how PP is redoubling its efforts on college campuses -- and invoked the usual complaint that young women have no memory of life before Roe.
I finally got the nod to ask a question. I introduced myself and said I was from St. Louis. All heads swiveled in my direction.
"My question", I said, "is about abortion and the media, a topic you did not cover in your talk. A little background: This past year I phoned our local NARAL office to find an answer to a specific question. I was grilled, asked my name, address, even my zip code! When I laughed and refused to answer the questions, asking instead, 'What in the world does this have to do with anything?' She then asked point-blank if I were a member of the media. After I said I was not I got an answer to my question.
"My sense is that the media is backing off from abortion, doesn't want to report on it. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch keeps retreating from stories, meanwhile explaining to the public at every turn that the subject is 'emotional'.
"I'd like your experience with the media, Ms. Z, and your opinion as to whether there has been a change".
Ms. Z replied: "First, I'd like to congratulate you for your efforts in St. Louis where there is such confrontation". She went on at length crediting me with dealing with "confrontational" St. Louis pro-lifers.
She then let down her hair. Local Florida media is, as always, "sympathetic" to Planned Parenthood, Ms. Z said. They do have to ask questions of the opposition, of course, because they have to quote both sides "but they are good at asking questions that make the opposition look foolish".
National media, on the other hand, Ms. Z has found to be a disappointment. They are lying down. They are overcome by "this new administration:, she complained.
Others wanted to ask questions (including me), but the questioning was ended and we were told to fill out the various petitions at our table and donate to Planned Parenthood.
Diane and I decided the better part of valor was a quick exit, so we made our adieus as soon as possible. Mrs. Lido asked Diane what she thought of "our Planned Parenthood". Diane answered that she had planned to have a large family, which she did, and that she has eleven grandchildren. Whether Mrs. Lido noticed this was not an answer to her question, we do not know. She just smiled and nodded good-bye to us.
What was most interesting to my friend and me about this meeting was not what was said, but what was not.
There was no mention whatsoever about religion.
There was no mention of polls.
There was no mention of the "Silent No More" women, who publicly rue their abortions.
There was no mention of Planned Parenthood and statutory rape accusations.
There was no mention of the growing evidence of the relationship between abortion and depression, abortion and death. No mention of abortionists increasingly in trouble with the law. No mention of 4-D Ultrasound (or any Ultrasound for that matter). No mention of compelling evidence that unborn children feel pain well before neuroscientists thought they did.
Most important, there was no mention at the Planned Parenthood luncheon of the real reason for the down-in-the-mouth talk, all the long faces and all the lonesome women: The words "fetus" and "unborn child" were never uttered.
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