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Lyz Hoffman & Erica Tempesta/MEDILL

Pro-life advocates protested Planned Parenthood's gala.

Political heavyweights applaud reproductive rights at Planned Parenthood gala

by Lyz Hoffman and Erica Tempesta
Jan 24, 2013


Erica Tempesta/MEDILL

Honoree Dawn Clark Netsch celebrates with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the gala.



Erica Tempesta/MEDILL

David Axelrod talks to attendees before giving his speech.


Planned Parenthood Gala

Erica Tempesta/MEDILL

About 1,000 Planned Parenthood supporters attended the fundraiser and gala that honored women's rights advocate Dawn Clark Netsch.

More than 1,000 Planned Parenthood supporters, including political powerhouses David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, gathered at a downtown Chicago fundraiser Wednesday night to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and honor longtime women’s rights activist, Dawn Clark Netsch.

The fundraiser drew a record number of attendees for a Roe v. Wade event and raked in more than $100,000 for Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, the nonpartisan political action arm of the nonprofit women’s health organization.

Keynote speaker David Axelrod, the former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, talked about reproductive rights and said that “the most fundamental of choices should be between a woman and her doctor and not the government.” The Supreme Court legalized abortion nationally in the Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22, 1973.

“A lot of young girls have higher aspirations in the state of Illinois because Dawn Clark Netsch broke down barriers,” Axelrod said. He also shared a note from his “friend” who “works out of town” — President Obama — who thanked Netsch for her activism.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton introduced Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who praised supporters of the organization “for never losing your nerve” and “for making sure you never lost sight of what’s important.”

“This was a big event,” said Pam Sutherland, the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “It was a big anniversary, and we just came off of a big election. That really showed last night. So many people were upbeat and so many people were happy to be there.”

Outside, about 30 anti-abortion advocates protested the Roe v. Wade celebration with pictures and signs. Eric Scheidler, the executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, said he felt that society will eventually turn against abortion.

“I feel like we really do have the right on our side,” Scheidler said. “The taking of innocent life is always wrong and is always going to bother people.”

Describing herself as “retired but still an activist,” gala attendee Barbara Engel, 61, said that she was disappointed with the protestors outside, calling their actions “the ugliest kind of coercion.”

“If you don’t want to have an abortion, fine, don’t have one,” she said. “But don’t make that decision for any other human being.”

Netsch, 86, a former state senator, comptroller and gubernatorial candidate, received the Dr. Marvin Rosner Lifetime Achievement award for her lifetime support of civil and women’s rights.

“Back in the early ‘70s when women first really became activists in politics, she was one of the founding mothers, and we all kind of grew up with here as our hero,” said Kit Duffy, 68, who served as the city’s first mayoral liaison to the LGBT community during Harold Washington's administration.

Axelrod also spoke briefly about Netsch’s diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. He said that “there’s nothing that could ever subdue that beautiful, indomitable mind.”

Attendee Charlotte Newfeld, 82, called Netsch “an icon in the community.”

“She is a phenomenal woman, very brave because she is not well, and she is coming out tonight,” Newfeld said.

After being helped from sitting in her wheelchair to standing, Netsch thanked Planned Parenthood and its supporters — not just for her award but for their own activism: “Keep on doing what you’re doing so well. We need it.”