Barrier breaker to speak for Planned Parenthood

by Amy Davis

Daily Cougar Staff

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion.

In remembrance of the occasion, Planned Parenthood has organized its annual anniversary luncheon. The keynote speaker for the event is former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Planned Parenthood, as a whole, promotes Elders and her views on human sexuality, education and prevention, said Director of Communications for Planned Parenthood Susan Nenney.

Elders was the center of political controversy just two years ago. When Elders was first appointed by President Clinton to be surgeon general of the United States, she was already breaking social barriers. Elders was not only the first woman to take the position, but she was also the only black surgeon general in history. After Elders endured a three-month battle in which conservatives tried to depict her as a "free-sex radical," she was finally installed by a 65-34 Senate vote. Just as many began to believe Elders was making headway for women everywhere, she was forced to resign. Apparently, Washington officials thought her views, which she expressed often and freely, were too radical.

However, Elder's supporters backed her for the same reasons the Senate was afraid to. Her candor on issues of sex education sparked the interest of citizens everywhere who were ready to act on the teen-age pregnancy problems others just wanted to talk about. Elders told America, as our surgeon general, that "we've been doing too little, too late. There's not just one thing we can do. We need a comprehensive program so we can take care of a multiplicity of problems ... if we really plan to make a difference."

In that "comprehensive program" Elders described, she advocated condom distribution in schools to children as young as 8 years old. In December 1994, Elders told a questioner that masturbation is "something that is a part of human sexuality and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught" in schools. President Clinton's Chief of Staff, Leon E. Panetta described this "incident" as "one too many."

Nenney said, "At a time when there's a lot of finger pointing in health care, Elders will be a fresh voice. She's very straight-forward as opposed to what's going on in Congress that seems to be very anti-feminine, no matter what they tend to call themselves."

Nenney said Planned Parenthood wants society to view abortion as a form of preventive health care that is available.

There is no specific target group the organization hopes to reach, she said. The annual luncheon typically draws an attendance of about 800 to 1,000 people, and Nenney said it hopes to attract "the community at large."

The luncheon will be held today at the Westin Galleria at noon.

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