Award-winning radio host Diane Rehm stepped back into the spotlight following her recent retirement to join forces with Planned Parenthood of South Texas at its annual fundraiser luncheon Thursday.

In front of a sold-out crowd of more than 1,200 supporters at the Marriott Rivercenter, Rehm and constitutional scholar Jeffrey Rosen discussed how federal and state laws may be affected by the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court.

Rehm, who hosted her own radio program on NPR for 37 years, arrived on stage to a standing ovation, and her first words expressed a fervently reiterated belief that “nothing could be more important than the freedom for women to make their choices at both ends of the life spectrum.”

Diane Rehm waves to a crowd of Planned Parenthood supporters.
Diane Rehm waves to a crowd of Planned Parenthood supporters. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Rehm and Rosen discussed the current state of reproductive rights, federal and state laws, and how the nomination of Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the late Antonin Scalia would affect individuals’ rights to life in varied contexts.

“If you believe that God should be the only decision maker, I support you 1,000%,” Rehm said. “If you believe that what you want is every option that medical care has to offer, I support you 1,000%. And if you decide that you wish to end your life when you choose – with death on the horizon – I support you 1,000%.”

Speaking candidly about the recent death of her husband John, who chose to end his life after a difficult battle with Parkinson’s disease, Rehm explained in more detail exactly why she stands so firm in her belief in the importance of an individual’s right to choose.

Diane Rehm.
Diane Rehm. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Exploring the idea of “death with dignity,” she explained that even in his most vulnerable moments, when her husband was unable to feed, clothe, or bathe himself, he was “sound of mind and strength” and should have had the right to make decisions regarding his own life.

John was unable to choose “death with dignity” due to Maryland state regulations regarding physician-assisted suicide. His only option to end his life was to stop eating and drinking – which he did – and 10 days later he died, Rehm said.

For Rehm, reproductive rights are human rights. They are about allowing individuals who are sound of mind to make decisions for themselves as they see fit.

Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center and a professor of law at George Washington University, explained that Gorsuch’s beliefs regarding “right to life” are deontological; that the intentional taking of a life in any circumstance is wrong – including assisted suicide.

Examining the current makeup of the Supreme Court, Rosen explained how Gorsuch and a conservative majority Supreme Court could erode abortion rights even without the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion laws are being introduced in states that, if challenged, the Supreme Court could uphold.

Jeffrey Rosen.
Jeffrey Rosen. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The addition of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court would reinstate the conservative majority from its 4-4 split between progressive and conservative justices, lessening the likelihood that the pragmatic consequences of women’s reproductive rights are taken into consideration.

Planned Parenthood has been a target for Republican lawmakers as they have been working to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), vowing to defund Planned Parenthood in proposed legislation because some of its clinics offer abortion services.

San Antonio has five Planned Parenthood locations offering healthcare services to both men and women. One of those locations offers abortion services, while the other four locations provide referrals for these services.

Diane Rehm and Jeffrey Rosen address a crowd of more than 1,200 at the Planned Parenthood luncheon at the Marriott Rivercenter.
Diane Rehm and Jeffrey Rosen address a crowd of more than 1,200 at the Planned Parenthood luncheon at the Marriott Rivercenter. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Planned Parenthood is only reimbursed for the non-abortion health care services it provides to low-income women, including birth control, breast exams, Pap smears, and STI testing, through Medicaid and the Title X Family Planning Program. A piece of legislation known as the Hyde Amendment has prevented federal Medicaid funding from being used to pay for abortions since 1976.

The GOP’s proposed plan would prevent Medicaid from working with Planned Parenthood, which would effectively block patients who rely on federally subsidized health care from choosing Planned Parenthood as their health care provider.

Thursday’s event inspired both Planned Parenthood supporters and those vehemently against the organization to show up. Inside, volunteers handed out buttons reading, “This is what a feminist looks like,” and participants were given the opportunity to take a staged photo in a judicial robe, standing in the current vacant seat for Supreme Court Justice.

The lobby halls were lined with “roadblocks to health care,” informational signs explaining judicial and emotional hurdles that have been overcome since Planned Parenthood’s inception 101 years ago, and an analysis of it’s 17 years operating in South Texas.

Outside the hotel, protesters held boldly written signs stating, “Defund Planned Parenthood.” Children wore T-shirts that read, “Thanks Mom,” and distributed information regarding pro-life options, highlighting the hostile dialectic of reproductive rights in the U.S.

Ginger Burkholder attended the luncheon with her friend Jo Anne Johnson. Both women were introduced to Planned Parenthood’s services years back when the organization went into their offices at USAA and presented lectures during their lunch hour. For Johnson, Planned Parenthood helped to teach her the best ways to explain sex education to her kids, an experience she described as “really valuable.”

For these women, Planned Parenthood was present during times in their life when they were seeking guidance. When asked what Planned Parenthood means to them today, without hesitation, Burkholder said, “It speaks to the importance of education – that an ounce of education is a pot of gold.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.