Susan Bookbinder remembers when the Supreme Court legalized abortion, calling it a “phenomenal turnaround for women’s rights.”
So the Naples resident was looking forward to hearing a speech from the woman who successfully argued the landmark Roe v. Wade case 39 years ago — when she was only 27 years old — during a Wednesday fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of Collier County. But Sarah Weddington, believed to be the youngest attorney to argue a case before the Supreme Court, was unable to make the event after suffering a medical emergency Tuesday while en route to Naples.
“That was heartbreaking,” Bookbinder said.
Weddington had a seizure on her flight from Dallas, which had to then make an emergency stop in New Orleans, said Barbara Teaford, vice chair of Planned Parenthood of Collier County. When Weddington awoke, she had no memory of the seizure, and is now doing better, Teaford said.
It would have been Weddington’s second speech in Naples. She also spoke for a Planned Parenthood event in 1998.
Her inability to attend Wednesday’s fundraiser disappointed some in the crowd, but Bookbinder and several others said they would have come to the event anyway to show support even if Weddington was not its keynote speaker.
“It wouldn’t have made a difference,” Bookbinder said. “The speaker was just the icing on the cake.”
About 400 people turned out for the event — one of the largest turnouts for the organization’s annual fundraiser at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
Many in attendance said they have been longtime supporters of Planned Parenthood, and have come to the fundraiser for years. They expressed concern for the organization’s future after challenges it faced last year in the Legislature. They were also concerned about Weddington, who they cheered for making huge strides in women’s rights.
“You guys don’t understand what it was like,” said Susan Sterner, referring to the years before Roe V. Wade. “There just wasn’t an option, unless you wanted to risk your life.”
Char Wendel, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood, gave the speech instead. She said event organizers were also disappointed, but focused on celebrating the 39th anniversary of the case, and the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill.
“She would have given the whole history of women’s issues tonight,” Wendel said of Weddington. “We’re disappointed, but we’ll get here again.”
A lone couple stood in protest outside the hotel, praying and holding an 8-foot cross.
“If people are going to have a fundraiser, myself and others try to show there are people who at least oppose taking life in the womb,” Jim Bock said. “We’re against abortion. We think it’s wrong to take the life of a child in a womb.”