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Planned Parenthood mobilizes support in Pittsburgh

Bob Bauder
| Saturday, May 14, 2016, 4:00 p.m.
The crowd cheers at the Power of Pink Planned Parenthood Action Fund National Membership rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The crowd cheers at the Power of Pink Planned Parenthood Action Fund National Membership rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
The crowd cheers as Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, speaks at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The crowd cheers as Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, speaks at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Joy Simmons, 19, traveled from Jackson, Miss., for the Power of Pink Planned Parenthood Action Fund National Membership rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Joy Simmons, 19, traveled from Jackson, Miss., for the Power of Pink Planned Parenthood Action Fund National Membership rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Alex Ross, 20, of Tucson, Ariz., cheers onstage during the Power of Pink Planned Parenthood Action Fund National Membership rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Alex Ross, 20, of Tucson, Ariz., cheers onstage during the Power of Pink Planned Parenthood Action Fund National Membership rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Elana Merritt, center right, 22, of Fort Wayne, Ind., looks up as Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, speaks at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Elana Merritt, center right, 22, of Fort Wayne, Ind., looks up as Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, speaks at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Saturday, May 14, 2016.

Planned Parenthood is organizing an army of volunteers to support Hillary Clinton for president this year and fight against restrictive abortion laws across the country, its leaders said Saturday.

The New York City-based organization, which provides women's health care and abortions and sometimes furnishes fetal tissue to researchers, brought 1,000 volunteers to Pittsburgh last week to educate and train them for what a top official called “a turning point for the next century.”

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the organization's political arm, urged volunteers to return home and work hard in the field.

“Together, we are going to dismantle the patriarchy and build a future,” she said during a speech Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the organization met beginning Thursday.

Organizers said the rally was the largest gathering of volunteers for field-training in Planned Parenthood's history. They said they chose Pittsburgh because it is centrally located, has a suitable facility and because Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania has more members — 500 — than any other chapter. About 300 people attended the rally.

“We brought 1,000 people here to train them,” said Deirdre Schifeling, the Action Fund's executive director. “These 1,000 people are a key. These folks are going to go back, and they're going to reach tens of thousands of other people.”

Schifeling said Planned Parenthood's membership has doubled to more than 9 million in the last four years.

Anti-abortion activists, however, say public support for Planned Parenthood is waning. The century-old organization has come under increased fire recently from anti-abortion activists and conservative state and federal legislators.

An anti-abortion group last summer released secretly recorded videos claiming Planned Parenthood violated federal law by profiting from fetal tissue sold for research. Planned Parenthood denied the allegations, and investigations by congressional panels and states turned up no wrongdoing.

“I think people are becoming aware about what the true nature of what Planned Parenthood is all about,” said Nikki Bruni of Verona, the local campaign director for 40 Days for Life. “Before, Planned Parenthood was able to kind of put a pretty face on abortion. Now, they have been exposed for what it is.”

Conservative House members attempted to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding during the 2015 budget process but were unsuccessful.

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania last month postponed a vote on legislation that would have put more limits on abortions after Gov. Tom Wolf threatened a veto. The bill would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and procedures that abort fetuses by removing body parts. In November, a man killed three people and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. The suspect, Robert Dear, described himself as a “warrior for the babies.”

People at the rally received instruction on everything from recruitment to voting drives and engaging the public on Planned Parenthood's mission.

Volunteers said they joined Planned Parenthood to fight for women's rights and to make their communities better.

“I thought of what the bigger picture was — the patients — making sure they could get into the building safely past the protesters to do whatever they needed to do,” said Lola Adebiyi, of Oakdale, a volunteer at one of two Downtown clinics.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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