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Planned Parenthood official tells crowd it’s guilty only of helping women

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Planned Parenthood has never been under fire (sometimes literally) as they have been in the past year.

The reproductive rights organization has had to contend with a series of blows that began last summer with a series of secretly recorded videos purporting to show its officials trying to profit illegally from selling fetal tissues.

“As you know, it took America by storm, and we started to fight for our lives, and actually it began this small progression of horribles that we’re experiencing today,” Barbara Zdravecky said Tuesday in Tampa. Zravecky is the longtime president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

The graphic video images depicted by the group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress stunned the nation, and catapulted the Republican-led Congress in Washington to attempt to bar the group from receiving federal funding.

Despite that intense negative publicity, public opinion polls continue to show support for the venerable organization. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released last September showed that 61 percent of Americans said that they opposed cutting funds to the organization.

Plus, in Houston earlier this year a Texas grand jury investigating accusations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood for those videos instead indicted two abortion opponents who made undercover videos of the organization. Zravecky proudly proclaimed, “The only thing that Planned Parenthood was guilty of was taking care of women in this country,” eliciting a huge cheer from the packed house at Maestro’s restaurant in the Straz Performing Arts Center.

The occasion for her speech was the “Tampa Bay Choice Affair,” the Planned Parenthood luncheon fundraiser held annually in Tampa. A sellout crowd of over 250 people came to celebrate and contribute to the organization. Zravecky said the goal was to raise $10,000 from the lunch.

Republican efforts to quell the organization didn’t occur only on the federal level. Gov. Rick Scott got into the act as well, when his Agency for Health Care Administration filed charges against Planned Parenthood centers in St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and Naples. He contended the clinics were performing abortions within the second trimester, which they are not licensed to do. With the case set to go to trial this month, the state recently dropped the charges. Zdravecky said the case isn’t over for Planned Parenthood, however, because they have spent more than $150,000 in legal expenses to defend themselves in that case. They’re going back to court to get those legal fees paid, she said.

Then there’s HB 1411, the omnibus anti-abortion bill signed by Governor Scott last month that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The U.S. Supreme Court is now reviewing the same requirement in a Texas case involving a law passed in 2013. Critics say that it will force abortion seekers to travel long distances, ultimately making the procedure risky. It also blocks money for preventive medical care at the same facilities where privately funded abortions occur. The new law also prohibits Planned Parenthood from working with public health departments.

There was also the incident in Colorado Springs last November, where a gunman killed a police officer, two civilians, and wounded nine others at a Planned Parenthood facility.

“We opened our door the next day because we were determined to take care of women, no matter what,” Zrvadecky said.

The organization honored Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for their years of support for the group. Kriseman was unavailable to attend, but he was singled out for showing up at the Planned Parenthood center in St. Pete the day after the Colorado killings.

“That’s the kind of guy he is,” said Sally Everett, his legislative and intergovernmental affairs director. “He wants to be there when people are hurting (and) when they need reassurance.”

Buckhorn is married to Dr. Catherine Lynch, the associate vice president of the USF College of Medicine’s OB/GYN program. He jokingly referred to himself as “Mr. Dr. Lynch.”

“The last person she needs between her and her patients is somebody like me, or worse, somebody in Tallahassee who doesn’t understand that the relationship between a patient and their physician has no room for a politician,” he said. He then made a partisan pitch for a Democratic takeover in two years, though whether that means he might be running for a statewide office remains unclear.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got to elect a president that understands, that is supportive, that can stand in the way of bad legislation, and in 2018, we’re going to change that regime in Tallahassee that has caused so many problems …,” he said, as the crowd roared in support.

“Hasn’t this been an outrageous year?” Tampa Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor asked the crowd, referring to her GOP colleagues in Washington. “They went to the brink to shut down the federal government over funding of Planned Parenthood last summer.”

Castor brought up the “vitriol” expressed by former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina when it came to the Center for Medical Progress videos. “Even after she was PolitiFacted and FactChecked to death, she, in essence, lied,” Castor said.

She then called the investigative panel investigating Planned Parenthood being led by Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn as a “Benghazi-style” committee. She also blasted the three remaining Republican presidential candidates for their stance on abortion, including Ohio’s John Kasich, who Castor called “one of the most radical governors in Ohio when it comes to freedom of choice,” though she did credit him for expanding Medicaid.

“I never believed I would see a week in which a major candidate for president, would talk about punishing women for exercising their constitutional rights,” added Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen. 

It’s always a busy year for Zravecky and her staff as well on the administrative level. That’s because the Planned Parenthood Southwest and Central Florida office merged recently with the Planned Parenthood chapters from Naples and Orlando.

“We are truly stronger together,” she said of the merger, though she could have been referring to the community support the group has received in the wake of such extreme opposition.

Peaceful pro-life demonstrators stood outside the Straz Center on Tuesday, distributing literature protesting abortions.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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