SARASOTA -- Supporters of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida celebrated its 50th anniversary Thursday, but the plan is to immediately start fighting perceived political threats to its existence.
"Let's party tonight, but tomorrow I want those phones to be ringing because they need to hear our voices," Barbara Zdravecky, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, told supporters.
Planned Parenthood provides health care services to men and women and sex education at roughly 700 centers in the United States but critics decry the abortions it performs, which supporters say only comprise about 5 percent of its work.
Roughly 450 people attended the celebration dinner and silent auction at Powel Crosley Estate in Sarasota. The theme was "50 Years Strong."
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The calls to Florida legislators Friday morning would ask them to oppose Senate Bill 1722 and House Bill 1411, Zdravecky said.
Zdravecky and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who also attended the bash, called HB 1411 and SB 1722 "medically unnecessary."
Richards and Zdravecky said the bills unfairly target abortion providers and clinics that perform first-trimester abortions. The bills would require these clinics to have patient-transfer agreements with hospitals close by and require the doctors who do the abortions to have admitting privileges at those hospitals.
"Admitting privilege requirements effectively give hospitals veto power over a health care provider's ability to provide care," said Anna Eskamani of Planned Parenthood. "Hospitals have broad discretion to set their internal policies for the granting of privileges, and can thereby grant or refuse privileges on the basis of their own rules and regulations."
Said Richards before the dinner: "For many women who come to us, we are their only health care provider. What I try to say to politicians is that they have the ability to go to whatever health care provider they want to and women should have that same right here in Florida."
The "50 Years Strong" committee, comprised of Barbara Banks, Roger and Patricia Courtois, Chip Gaylor, Felice Schulaner and Dennis Rees, wrote in the event program: "These last few months have been a wild ride and our fight is only beginning. For instance, the Florida Legislature is determined to shutter Planned Parenthood in the state. Fortunately, we know how to vanquish bullies and overcome adversity."
Zdravecky expressed outrage at the bills and said she saw them as an attempt to put Planned Parenthood out of business.
"These are some of the worst laws that have been brought through any legislature in the country," Zdravecky said. "Florida is following Texas' lead, and we don't want to go there. We've got to get ourselves together. We have to work hard."
About a half-dozen anti-abortion protesters held signs at the entrance to Crosley Estate. Richards was asked what she feels when she sees them.
"Look, I wish we could all sort of join hands together in this country and redouble our efforts to reduce unintended and teen pregnancies," Richards said. "I'm proud of our work. I think, less protesting and more action. There's a lot of health care that needs to be delivered in this community."
On the issue of public tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood, Richards said: "Planned Parenthood operates like all other medical providers. We are very proud. We are the largest provider of family planning in the country. We work like everyone else. We only get reimbursed for the services we deliver. We have two and a half million patients a year. They come voluntarily."
Bradenton resident Karin Grablin said she first attended Planned Parenthood as a young adult living in Ohio.
"I went there looking for education and prevention methods and that's what I received," said Grablin. "I remember I was kept safe and helped to make good choices."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.