Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kennedy and Quindlen attend fundraiser to mobilize pro-choice vote

Calling the upcoming election the most important in a lifetime, Caroline Kennedy addressed attendees of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s annual National Power of Choice Luncheon today. The afternoon’s keynote speaker, Anna Quindlen followed up by telling the audience fostering open debate is the key to winning over undecided voters.

As the national media studies the mounting get-out-the-vote effort being coordinated by Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign, today’s luncheon in Rockefeller Center’s chandeliered Rainbow Room seemed like a voter-mobilization primer for the well-heeled. Luncheon attendees paid between $150 and $500 for individual tickets and up to $25,000 for tables and were eager to pitch in to elect a pro-choice candidate.

“Being here today is important because of McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, who is so against abortion,” said Dr. Sheila Erlich, 54, who has donated to NARAL, a pro-choice advocacy organization, for years but was attending the luncheon fundraiser for the first time. “It’s frustrating. Choice should be a personal issue and it has become a political one. When it is made political, we should have the money and resources to fight back.”

For luncheon attendees a sense of urgency surrounding the upcoming election stemmed from fear that the Supreme Court’s support for Roe v. Wade, the decision prohibiting state laws that unduly restrict access to abortion as a violation of women’s privacy, is in danger.

“Since 2004 two new Supreme Court judges have been nominated who are hostile to Roe v. Wade and we know there will likely be three more nominations during the next administration,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in her opening remarks. “The four that will be left after that tend to be the more moderate and liberal justices.”

Kennedy, appearing as a surrogate for Sen. Obama, said that the upcoming presidential election will be the most important in a lifetime.

“Only when we re-engage this generation will we be able to make the changes this country needs,” she said. “We know what needs to change. We need the kind of president that will lead us and challenge us to make those changes ourselves. That is the kind of president Barack Obama will be.”

Quindlen, a regular columnist for Newsweek and author of several books, focused on the message of the pro-choice movement and reaching out to people who are undecided about whether abortion should be legal.

“If we become the people who invite discussion and debate about these difficult questions, we will attract people who are tired of being told that someone else knows best,” she said, referring to Washington politicians. “Winning means bringing the undecided to our side. This is work that has to be done in the messy gray zone of individual conscience.”

Few political issues elicit the heated emotions abortion does, both from those who oppose it and those who work to keep it legal. Some argue, though, that activists’ focus on Roe v. Wade is little more than political theater.

“It is unlikely any president would nominate a justice that would overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Jamal Greene, assistant professor of law at Columbia University School of Law specializing in constitutional law. “It is a very popular decision and a flat out prohibition of abortion from Congress would be unconstitutional.”

Whether politicians’ stances on abortion are a matter of true conviction or convenient pandering probably does not matter to women like those attending this afternoon’s luncheon. As Quindlen put it, these women are interested in ‘winning.’ 

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