Commission backs off Planned Parenthood
Led by Ronda Storms, the county cuts funding to a teen educational program.
Published July 29, 2005
TAMPA - The idea came from Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms: eliminate funding for a teen educational program sponsored by Planned Parenthood.
Commissioners went along with her Thursday, while expressing none of their personal feelings about the nonprofit group that supports women's reproductive rights.
But Storms had made her feelings clear in a conversation last week, said Barbara Zdravecky, who oversees Planned Parenthood in 15 counties, including the Tampa Bay area.
Storms supports life - Zdravecky remembers hearing her say - and Planned Parenthood supports death.
"I have to say I was pretty shaken," Zdravecky said. "I'm used to taking hits. But I was surprised at her lack of humanity."
Zdravecky, other nonprofit officials and proponents had just finished lobbying the commission the night of July 21 and were standing around after nearly three hours of budget discussion.
They wanted commissioners to give them $39,500 during the next two years for Source Teen Theater, a $130,000 program in which Tampa teens teach other kids about such topics as sexual activity, drugs, gangs and family violence.
Storms remembers the conversation, too.
She had called for Planned Parenthood's removal from the budget. Zdravecky asked her to reconsider. Surely, Zdravecky asked, the commissioner must support preventing teen pregnancy, even if she doesn't support Planned Parenthood.
"There is nothing you can say or do for me to support you," the commissioner said, according to Storms' version of the conversation. "Thank you very much for your comments."
But Zdravecky pressed on.
"I am prolife and you're not," Storms remembers saying.
Storms thanked them and told them she could not support the request. She even remembers that she smiled at them.
She told them that their organization is "prodeath from its founding." She told them how Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger advocated eugenics - the study of improving hereditary qualities by controlling human reproduction - as her basis for supporting abortion.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Storms continued to make her case.
"Women are dying at the hands of Planned Parenthood today," she said, noting that the organization continues to promote the abortion pill RU-486. She pointed to a news account that questioned the drug's safety.
Those are the facts, Storms said. Lobbying, she added, "is not for the thin-skinned."
"She could have walked away and not had her feelings hurt," Storms said of Zdravecky.
Zdravecky remembers a more blunt conversation where Storms said, "I am prolife, you are prodeath" twice.
"I believe anyone who professes to be a proponent of Christianity would treat me with more dignity than the way I was treated," Zdravecky said.
Storms often takes controversial stands. On June 15, she led a commission vote to distance the county from gay pride events, a policy that has generated national attention.
Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Central Florida has been in Hillsborough for at least 25 years and operates a clinic in Temple Terrace. About 95 percent of the 65,000 clients Planned Parenthood sees annually in the region aren't coming for abortion services, Zdravecky said.
Last year, 1,700 did.
Hillsborough County has funded Source Teen Theater intermittedly during the past few years. It does not fund any other Planned Parenthood programs.
During the budget discussion that led to Thursday's 5-2 vote, Storms didn't comment other than to call for the elimination of the project's funding.
Commissioner Brian Blair spoke at length about how he favored the way the Pregnancy Center of Plant City operated. He said that its crisis pregnancy counselors encourage "the young women to choose life" and that its executive director raises money without asking for county help.
After the meeting, he said he voted against the program for fiscal reasons. He said his decisions are evenhanded, pointing to his rejection of a $250,000 request from Praise Cathedral and a $112,000 request from Redlands Christian Migrant Association. But Commissioner Kathy Castor, who voted against the motion with Commissioner Thomas Scott, said Planned Parenthood's program was the only project eliminated after a high rating from a county committee that reviews nonprofit funding requests.
Castor said that Hillsborough had $8-million to give to nonprofit groups.
"Their request," she said, "was one of the more modest."