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Both sides of aisle observe Roe v. Wade court decision legalizing abortion

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A churchgoer holds a small bible as another churchgoer prays in the background at the 'Respect Life Mass' on Friday, January 25, 2013 at St. Mary of Mercy Church in Downtown. The Mass coincided with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., marking the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in the U.S.

Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Where Judy Styperk sees a time for solemn prayer, Mary Litman feels a call to social action.

Western Pennsylvanians on both sides of the abortion debate mourned or celebrated the 40th anniversary this week of the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the case of Roe v. Wade.

Their meditations on the moment were as divergent as their politics, with some traveling to Washington for the annual March for Life on Friday and others raising money for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.

Styperk, 58, of South Park joined about 50 others at noon Friday for the Respect Life Mass in St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown.

“I'm going to pray for all those who made the terrible decision of having an abortion rather than giving life,” said Styperk, adding that she hopes “for all of us to stay closer to God like our” grandmothers and grandfathers.

About 6,000 people from 11 Western Pennsylvania counties signed up for planned bus trips to the March for Life, said regional organizer Mary Lou Gartner, 81, of Penn Hills. She said the Roe v. Wade anniversary marks “decades of struggle to protect innocent human life.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was a speaker at the march, which supporters said drew more than 500,000 participants.

“We have to educate the next generation. This generation has lost a lot of their own peers because they are the generation of abortions,” Gartner said. “We need to let the public know that we're not going to go away.”

At Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, regional leaders started a capital campaign this month for its health centers.

“It was a nice way to say we've been doing this for 40 years, and this is what we're doing to renew our commitment,” said Rebecca Cavanaugh, a vice president with Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.

The organization, which provides abortions among other services, also planned a Friday cocktail hour with raffles and trivia for about 60 expected guests.

“For us, it's a way to rally the troops, celebrate what we have and look forward to what we have to achieve,” Cava-naugh said of the Roe v. Wade anniversary.

She said Planned Parenthood still fights for abortion rights “every single day” in the face of legislative challenges.

Elsewhere in Pittsburgh, a 100-guest fundraiser on Saturday for expected City Council candidate Jeanne Clark will double as a celebration of the court ruling, said Shadyside resident Mary Litman. Kate Michelman, a past president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, and Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal are scheduled to attend.

Litman, a former board member at NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the anniversary a time not only to guard abortion rights but to support safe clinics for women's health care.

“What people don't remember and don't want to think about is how many illegal abortions there were and how many women died” before the court decision, Litman said. “I do not want to go back to those days ever, ever again.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676.

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