by Maggie Seal, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Development Intern
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia activists and supporters gathered, in Arlington on June 14, in celebration to honor our community leaders at our annual Power of Choice Celebration. Over 150 attendees came to see to three of our most valued activists get recognized for their outstanding work and commitment to advancing reproductive rights and freedom in Virginia. The evening also included a reception and a silent auction hosted by the NARAL Pro-Choice Foundation Board of Directors. The items being auctioned included highly coveted items from paintings and wine tastings to baseball tickets and jewelry. All proceeds from the silent auction benefitted the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation which supports our research, public education, and outreach work to engage pro-choice Virginians on critical reproductive rights issues. The night would not have been complete without inspiring speeches from Any Hagstrom Miller, Founder, President, and CEO of Whole Women’s Health, and the First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAulliffe.
During the evening, we recognized three leaders in the Virginia pro-choice community. Rebecca Gotwalt is one of NARAL Pro-Choice Virgina’s most active and dedicated volunteer activists. As the recipient of The “Outstanding Advocate for Choice” award, Rebecca has demonstrated her passion for advocacy through supporting numerous community education events and frequently steps up to testify before policymakers, fearlessly sharing her own story. Another honoree of the night was Lori Swain for her critical work on the Virginia Board of Medicine’s Genetic Counseling Advisory Board. Ms. Swain received The “Aggie Wolf Defender of Choice Award” for her continued actions against the anti-choice “religious refusal” clause for genetic counselors during her time on the Board. Thanks to her actions pregnant Virginians will still be able to receive full and accurate information about prenatal diagnoses and be directed to a counselor who will provide information on the full range of reproductive healthcare options. The final honoree of the night, Elisabeth Buerskens, was honored for continuing to provide accessible reproductive healthcare to Virginians for 27 years. Ms. Buerskins has never wavered in her commitment to providing high-quality, compassionate care even in the face of constant harassment and deception from an anti-choice “crisis pregnancy center” that located itself right next door. For this reason, we were pleased to give her The “Lifetime Achievement” Award.
Guests had the pleasure of meeting and hearing from two pro-choice champions for Virginia and the United States. Amy Hagstrom Miller, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court Case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, discussed the importance of fighting for our right to choose and how she has taken her case against the Texas TRAP law that reduced the number of clinics in Texas, from 22 to about 8, to the Supreme Court of the United States. Ms. Hagstrom Miller inspired all of us when she talked about how important it was to stop legislators from making sham laws that are solely political attacks and not based in science. She also provided her insights into the necessity of overcoming the stigma around abortion and how we can help to diminish it. The First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, also joined us to speak about her and Governor McAuliffe’s efforts to protect reproductive freedom in Virginia.
This incredibly evening would not have been possible without our wonderful staff and dedicated volunteers that helped us accomplish raising money for our organization and efforts. Thank you to the volunteers who helped put together this evening and those who helped us on site, running the event. At the end of the evening we said goodbye to our Director of Communications & Advocacy, Alena Yarmosky as she heads to University of California, Berkeley to get her Master’s degree and we wish her well in all of her future endeavors. We cannot wait to see everyone next year for 7th annual Power of Choice!