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September 23, 2017

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Feminist icon Gloria Steinem adored, reviled in divided Ohio

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Brooke LaValley / The Columbus Dispatch via AP

Gloria Steinem poses Tuesday, May 16, 2017, before a dinner for the 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood at the Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gloria Steinem does not believe her life's work advocating for reproductive freedom and women's rights makes her "pro-abortion," the feminist icon said in an Associated Press interview Tuesday.

Steinem spoke ahead of her appearance at a centennial gala fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, the state chapter of the abortion and women's health care provider whose government grants have been targeted by some Republicans.

While sponsors of the gala shelled out up to $50,000 to attend the event where Steinem was featured, Ohio Right to Life labeled her a "radical pro-abortion icon" and called Planned Parenthood a de-humanizing organization.

"If they supported me, I'd know I was doing something wrong," Steinem said of the anti-abortion group. "It's obviously ridiculous to say somebody is 'pro-abortion.' Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, 'I think I'll have an abortion. It's a pleasurable experience.' The question is not pro-abortion or anti-abortion, the question is who makes the decision: a woman and her physician, or the government."

Steinem, 83, said she's accustomed to being both admired and reviled — including in Ohio, her politically divided home state. But she said in past decades supporting Planned Parenthood was "not as electoral as it is now." She said the organization did not even have a political arm in the early days, "it was a service provider."

That has changed in recent years, as abortion rights groups have sharpened their attacks against Planned Parenthood's key role in providing legal abortions.

Beth Crane, 65, is a past Planned Parenthood board member whose family was a gala sponsor. She is a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton last year, but her late mother, a Republican, also served for years on the Planned Parenthood board, she said.

"When I was young I don't think Planned Parenthood had such a negative connotation," said Crane, who entered college at Vassar in 1969. "It's become, 'It's a liberal organization.' 'They kill babies.'" The organization said it has served 1 in 5 women in the U.S.

Emma Mysko, 19, a field assistant with the anti-abortion group Created Equal, joined about 40 protesters outside the gala. "She is standing for a great human injustice," she said of Steinem. "She is in there helping Planned Parenthood raise money to kill more human beings."

Crane's daughter-in-law Leah Westwater, 36, credits a Planned Parenthood doctor in California with early detection of her thyroid cancer. She said abortions represent only about 5 percent of the organization's work.

Steinem said she initially thought that the premise that women should be treated as men's equals would be so obvious that everyone would believe it once it was explained. But she has watched as the same arguments have had to be made over and over again. Having to fight again the battles of the women's movement's "grandmothers" has been a key rallying cry for the left since Republican President Donald Trump's election.

"The good news is much better than the bad news," she said. "But it does mean that all the folks who want the old hierarchy — want 'America to be great again' in the old ways of race and sex — are alarmed."

Steinem was critical of a family leave policy supported by first daughter Ivanka Trump during last year's campaign. The proposal, not yet a formal policy proposal, favors leave only for women who have "physically given birth," Steinem said.

"That isn't the policy that people want, they want a family-supportive policy," she said. "Actually, that policy — I'm not saying she knows this — is the policy of every authoritarian regime that I know of, because they pay women to have children to have more soldiers and more workers, but they don't support parenthood, fathers, adoption."

Ivanka Trump's spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Steinem plugged environmentalist Paul Hawken's new book, which suggests that the top solution to global warming is educating and providing contraception to young women. She said when women are allowed to decide whether to have children, population growth tends to settle down to each generation roughly replacing itself.

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