Amid the political climate in the Republican-controlled Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, a record number of supporters of the organization showed up for a fundraiser in Sarasota Thursday evening.
A sold-out dinner and silent auction were held Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, to raise funds for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. The evening’s theme was “We Won’t Go Back.”
Officials said more than 700 guests attended the dinner and fundraiser.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump proposed that if Planned Parenthood would stop performing abortions, it could still receive federal funding. Planned Parenthood officials have refused that proposition, according to the New York Times.
The Republican Party’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act includes defunding Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood receives about $500 million annually in federal funding.
While record crowds strolled up to the Hyatt Regency to support the local Planned Parenthood clinic, they were greeted by both supporters of the 100-year-old organization and opponents.
“Please don’t give your money to people who kill babies,” was one plea that rang out from the small group of people who came out to oppose abortions because of their religious beliefs.
Michele Herzog, a concerned Central Florida citizen, was one of them.
“We’re not out here protesting. We’re out here as Christians laying our lives down for our neighbors. We’re out here because we care about these children and the women,” Herzog said. “This really is the human rights issue of today.”
Just feet away, more than 50 mostly silent Planned Parenthood supporters lined the sidewalk. Planned Parenthood encourages supporters in such situations not to engage opponent and instead be a presence.
Sarah Scully, 21, has supported Planned Parenthood at several events, and she said she knew she needed to come out Thursday night.
“It’s just so heartening to see all of these people who support us,” Scully said.
Inside the hotel, supporters who arrived early attended a short news conference with the night’s featured speaker.
Dr. Willie J. Parker, an advocate for reproductive justice and a traveling abortion provider, told the crowd that as a former medical director for Planned Parenthood, he did not encourage staying silent.
“Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you,” Parker said. “There’s an opportunity here, but only if you’re smart enough and courageous enough to look for it and courageous enough to pursue it. While it is our right to remain silent, I don’t recommend it.”
Parker has been honored by the United Nations Office of Human Rights as one of 12 Women’s Human Rights Defenders and was a recipient of Planned Parenthood’s 2015 Margaret Sanger Award.
Herzog called for Parker to repent. Scully disagreed, saying that defunding is unnecessary and would hurt millions of people.
“The fact people would want to get rid of that for a political reason I think is disgusting,” Scully said.
Herzog took exception. “We don’t want our money going to fund abortion or anything else Planned Parenthood does,” she said.
Herzog also noted that she feels her opinions are being heard by lawmakers who are “willing to stick their neck out” to abolish abortions.
Barbara A. Zdravecky, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said Planned Parenthood will fight to keep facilities open — no matter what.
“We’re going to create this army of supporters tonight, and we’re going to stand strong together as we continue to support what we do for women and families in this state and in this great country of ours,” Zdravecky said.