Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1925-1993: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview
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ALYCE FAYE WATTLETON

( 1943-) president, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 1978-1992; abortion rights advocate, speaker, author

DIANE S. HOPE

The years immediately following the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision to decriminalize abortion were marked by intense anti-abortion organizing. Local electoral success by anti-abortion forces eroded abortion rights for poor women in many states, and in 1977 the Supreme Court ruled in Maher v. Roe that states were under no legal obligation to pay for nontherapeutic abortions sought by women on welfare. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the oldest family planning agency, was convinced of the need for a stronger organization and a skilled advocate who could represent them in the growing national debate over reproductive rights. In 1978 the PPFA board selected Alyce Faye Wattleton as national president, the only African-American and the first woman since MARGARET HIGGINS SANGER to lead the organization. At age 34, Wattleton was also the youngest person ever to head the national office.

Wattleton's election signaled the board's desire to transform and expand PPFA and change its conservative image. During the fourteen years she held office, she vastly expanded PPFA's services (especially to the poor and to the young); however, clinics were firebombed in the name of the "unborn," and the "pro-life" policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations severely weakened the right to legal abortion. By 1992 under her leadership PPFA had become nearly synonymous with abortion rights advocacy, and she had emerged as a pivotal figure in the national pro-choice campaign that repositioned abortion rights as a mainstream political issue. Her achievements were directly connected to her bold organizational decisions, her rhetorical prowess, and in particular to her success in the popular national media as an advocate for women's reproductive rights. In January 1992 she resigned the PPFA presidency in order to host a television program on social issues.


BACKGROUND

Wattleton's persuasive skills were nurtured at an early age. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 8, 1943. As an only child, she frequently accom

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