Gloria Steinem, feminist, journalist and activist, offered a message of hope at Planned Parenthood South Texas’ annual luncheon, three months after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Hope is absolutely crucial because it is a form of planning. If we don’t have hope in our minds, in our hearts, in our friends to help support it, we’ve given up already,” said Steinem, who received a standing ovation.
The downtown San Antonio luncheon celebrated the organization’s 83rd anniversary and its first since Laura Terrill was named president and CEO of the chapter.
More than 1,300 people gathered to hear Steinem and other speakers that included Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Before Steinem was invited on stage for an interview session, McGill Johnson said that since abortion was outlawed in Texas, Planned Parenthood has been preparing for 26 more abortion bans in the coming months.
“These lawmakers are getting more extreme. They’re voting for bans with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the parent. They’re trying to criminalize travel across state lines,” she said.
When McGill Johnson introduced Steinem, she thanked her for her advocacy and said most people in the room owed her gratitude for fighting for reproductive rights through the 1970s. McGill Johnson called it an honor to have Steinem at the event.
In response, Steinem offered her own thanks to the organization.
“It’s I who owe this movement for reproductive freedom my gratitude,” said Steinem. “Authoritarian regimes all begin with controlling reproduction.”
McGill Johnson asked Steinem about her opinion on several topics, including what can be done to mobilize equality and freedom, the role of men in advocating for reproductive rights and the movement becoming inclusive of nonbinary people.
“If you’re in an office that doesn’t look like the country, or if there’s more men than women … more white folks than people of color, the more we can move toward the allowance of all human talent to rise in whatever way it wishes to. The more talent we will have, the more exciting it will be, the more fun we will have,” she said.
All the speakers at the luncheon echoed a similar message that though human rights have been threatened and taken away, the organization is here to stay and will “not back down.”
“Generations upon generations of San Antonians have benefitted from Planned Parenthood’s presence here,” said Nirenberg. “Planned Parenthood Health centers are a vital asset to the community.”
Several city and county officials were in the crowd at the luncheon, including members of Bexar County Commissioners Court, the San Antonio City Council and the Texas House.
The event raised more than $1 million for the organization, which says it has treated some 25,000 people who sought health care in South Texas since 2021, officials said.
There was a somewhat sorrowful but hopeful energy in the room, as attendees grieved the loss of abortion access in Texas.
Terrill, who has been in her role for less than two months, talked about Senate Bill 8, which limited abortions at six weeks, and the state’s more extreme law that bans almost almost all abortions. That law was triggered in late August by the Roe reversal.
Terrill went on to highlight the “real crises” in Texas: the highest number of uninsured residents, twice the national average, gun violence and rising maternal mortality rates.
“Access to essential care is all but out of reach now,” said Terrill about rural, low-income and undocumented South Texas. “We know banning abortion doesn’t stop people from getting abortions,” she said. “It just puts people’s lives at danger.”
She called the abortion ban racist, acknowledging that abortions disproportionately harm people of color.
“While we are devastated, we are by no means defeated,” she said.
This story has been updated with a more current number of South Texans that Planned Parenthood has treated since 2021.