By Jan Jarvis
February 3, 2010

In 1967, when Christine Todd Whitman attended a demonstration for women’s reproductive rights, she never imagined that the debate would still be on the table four decades later.

“But here we are, a decade into the 21st century, and the debate rages on,” Whitman told the audience at the Planned Parenthood of North Texas annual luncheon on Wednesday.

Whitman, who was elected governor of New Jersey in 1993 and appointed by President George W. Bush as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, was the keynote speaker for the luncheon at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel.

But she didn’t talk about the environment or politics. Instead, the Republican focused on women’s reproductive rights. She raised concerns that a more conservative Supreme Court could reverse the historic Roe vs. Wade abortion decision and that women’s access to medical care could be reduced as the debate over healthcare reform goes on.

Whitman, who now runs her own consulting firm, urged the audience to elect more women and support candidates that carry the message of a woman’s right to decide for herself about reproductive health issues. Women make up only 17 percent of Congress, and there are only six female governors, she said.

“We should be much more intentional in supporting other women,” Whitman said.

While the luncheon was going on, a handful of protesters stood in the wet, chilly weather carrying anti-abortion signs and handing out pamphlets on why they oppose Planned Parenthood.

“Most of us are here because we are concerned about the promotion of abortion,” said Sue Laux, coordinator of Youth for Life. “It breaks up families.”

The protest did not go unnoticed by Whitman, who expressed concern that the small number of protesters indicated that they are confident they’re making headway in their anti-abortion efforts. Another indicator: For the first time, a Gallup poll recently found more women identified themselves as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”

She said that there needs to be a change in the language regarding pro-choice and pro-life. It should be pro-choice or anti-choice, not pro-life or anti-life, Whitman said, noting that many women support a woman’s right to choose but would not choose to have an abortion themselves. “That’s really what it is all about,” she said.

Lisa Kraus, who leads the Planned Parenthood of North Texas Board, said that the organization focuses largely on education, medical service and advocacy.

Abortion makes up only 2.5 percent of the organization’s services, she said.

Planned Parenthood of North Texas is raising money for new clinics and a state-of-the art healthcare center to serve Tarrant County, Kraus said. Wednesday’s luncheon raised more than $110,000 toward the $25 million goal.