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Planned Parenthood's role now one of rallying point

Planned Parenthood, once a comfortable charity of the upper middle class, has become something entirely different: a rallying point for women who want to keep abortion legal, and for the anti-abortion movement, something akin to a criminal conspiracy. Since it took the role as a standard-bearer in the crusade to keep abortion legal, Planned Parenthood has become far richer and more famous than ever before.

In the Reagan and Bush years, it has tripled its private fund-raising to $90-million a year, which puts it slightly ahead of more mainstream health charities like the American Lung Association and the Easter Seals, and far in front of its fellow abortion rights advocates, the National Abortion Rights Action League and the National Organization for Women.

In the process it has become one of the most vilified non-profit organizations in the country, denounced from pulpit to political rally as a Pied Piper that leads youths into promiscuity and disease.

"For better or worse, Planned Parenthood has become identified in the popular mind as an organization that has a primary emphasis on abortion," said Dr. Warren Pearse, executive director of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

His group supports abortion rights, he said, "but if we were to form a coalition to deal with unintended pregnancy, we would probably not choose, first off, Planned Parenthood."

This week, the abortion issue is bringing Planned Parenthood to the Supreme Court and a new level of prominence.