When almost 500 guests gathered on Tuesday night for the 25th Anniversary Celebration for the Center for Reproductive Rights, they had much to celebrate. The event commemorated not only a year of important victories in the face of extraordinary challenges, but a quarter century of progress in the fight for women’s health and rights. Kathleen Tait, the Center’s board chair, kicked off the Celebration with a rousing welcome.
Yet the event was much more than a proud look back. Nancy Northup, the Center’s President and CEO, issued an impassioned call to action, speaking of the need “to serve a cause bigger than ourselves,” and to bring “conscience, heart, and courage” to the struggle for reproductive rights. She noted that this extremely difficult moment, in which women’s health and rights are under intensive attack, demands a renewed commitment “not just to dream but to take action.”
The Celebration’s speakers and honorees echoed the call for a renewed commitment to action.
Zachary Carter, Corporate Counsel for New York City, introduced Loretta Lynch, former United States Attorney General under Barack Obama and one of the Celebration’s honorees. Carter spoke eloquently of Lynch’s lifelong commitment to the advancement of justice and human rights and her masterful leadership. “She lifts [people] up. She makes them better. She speaks to their better nature,” he said. Carter spoke of the urgent need for such skillful leadership today.
Lynch’s tenure as U.S. Attorney General was notable for her deft and humane handling of the investigation into the racism-fueled mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, her in-depth examination of racial discrimination by Baltimore’s police, which she undertook in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, and other major civil rights cases.
At the Celebration, Lynch herself spoke of attacks on women’s health and rights that are “as old as the hills and as current as today’s headlines.” She noted that “everywhere that women dare to seek a voice and raise their hand, anger comes.” She observed that “the path has never been straight – throughout history there have been twists, turns, and reversals” on the road to justice. Throughout her moving address, she repeated the refrain, “We cannot be silent.”
Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights of the U.N., introduced the evening’s other honorees: Maria Teresa Rivera and Guadalupe Aldana, Salvadoran women who had been imprisoned because of El Salvador’s cruel abortion ban. Gilmore spoke powerfully of Maria Teresa and Guadalupe’s “courage, self-determination, and will to survive in the face of unconscionable injustice.” She called on the Center to carry on the vital work of “challenging the narrative” around reproductive rights.
Maria Teresa spent seven years in prison in El Salvador after suffering a miscarriage, having been wrongly found guilty of having had an abortion. After she was freed, she was persecuted and unable to find work. She became the world’s first abortion refugee when Sweden granted her and her son asylum this year. Guadalupe was imprisoned for more than four years, she had been raped and had a miscarriage, and was also convicted of having an abortion. Both women are fierce advocates for the end of El Salvador’s abortion ban and are fighting to liberate all who are still in prison because of the ban.
Maria Teresa was unable to attend the Celebration, and Guadalupe accepted the award on her behalf and for all of Las 17: women who are behind bars because of El Salvador’s abortion ban. In a statement that was read in her absence, Maria Teresa wrote, “I want to remind you that they are still there. Their nightmare has not ended. Their children are growing up without them. We must keep fighting until every one of them is free and until this cruel law comes to an end.” Guadalupe agreed. “My crime was being raped and having a miscarriage,” she said, “and there are many women who are still behind bars for similar so-called crimes.” She added, “None of these women deserve to be in prison. None of their children deserve to be growing up without their mothers. We all need to work together to end this injustice.”
The Celebration raised more than $1.25 million, which will support the Center’s work to advance women’s health, rights, and autonomy.
Please view a gallery of photos of the Celebration.