With the soaring view of a New York City night skyline as a backdrop, Center for Reproductive Rights board chair Kathleen Tait welcomed 500 guests to the 2016 gala celebrating the organization’s historic achievements—from Texas to Ireland, Kenya to Nepal—and the possibilities they unlock for women going forward.
The festivities honored two exceptional champions of reproductive rights: author and human rights advocate Isabel Allende and documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter.
The Center’s biggest milestone this year was the June Supreme Court victory in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. “The decision was a game changer,” said president and CEO Nancy Northup in her opening remarks, “not just for Texas but for women across the United States, for a generation.” Northup thanked our many partners and supporters in this long, hard fight—many of whom were present in Lincoln Center’s Appel room that night: Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, co-counsel Alex Lawrence of the law firm Morrison &, Foerster, and attorneys from the more than two dozen top law firms that filed briefs in support of Whole Woman’s Health.
Victories like this are not just historic events, they change the future for the better. “You can’t seal your borders to ideas,” Northup said, in a short video produced for the gala, showcasing 3 of the 52 cases we are working on this year. “The recognition of rights in one place comes to be the recognition of rights in another.”
Next up was John Oliver, the award-winning host of Last Week Tonight. Although Whole Woman’s Health was a fantastic victory, Oliver said, “the thing with whack-a-mole is: when you hit a mole, another one is coming back up. That is going to happen in Texas, and around the country, and you need to keep whacking.”
“And that’s why it’s so important for you to keep supporting the Center for Reproductive Rights,” he continued. “Because vocal help is important when you’re talking about something people don’t like to talk about, but practical help is absolutely essential.”
Oliver introduced the first of the evening’s honorees: Dawn Porter, whose film Trapped documents the struggle against needless abortion restrictions in the South—like Texas HB2, the law that the Center successfully fought back against at the Supreme Court. “She is absolutely one of my favorite filmmakers in the world,” he said.
Porter, who described herself as a “superfan” of the Center, praised our attorneys: “They’ve never met a case they wouldn’t take, and they don’t back down. They are compassionate—and I think sometimes the compassion piece gets lost.” Of her film, she said: “Trapped is not only about compassionate people, it’s about resilience… It is about an abuse of power and what happens if we are not vigilant.”
Kavita N. Ramdas, senior advisor on global strategy at the Ford Foundation, introduced the second honoree, feminist icon Isabel Allende, whose own foundation focuses much of its efforts on reproductive rights for women and girls.
Allende recalled the story of how, at the age of 17, she helped a young family member obtain an illegal abortion in Santiago, on a kitchen table. “That single event gave me a mission for life,” she said. “I realized that all my theories about women’s liberation were just that: theories. How can there be freedom without control of one’s own body and reproduction?”
Allende closed with an announcement of a $100,000 grant—her foundation’s largest this year—to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The event raised a total of more than one million dollars to support the Center’s work around the world.