IT BEGAN AS A global gag gift. The idea was to counter President Bush's reinstatement of the global gag rule, which cut off U.S. aid to any overseas family-planning agency that even mentions abortion.
The brilliant idea, suggested by Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison in late January, was that people who believe in reproductive rights for women should make a Presidents Day contribution to Planned Parenthood in honor of Bush.
Soon the idea was circulating in e-mail boxes. Before you knew it, Planned Parenthood had received the biggest increase in contributions in its history.
E-mails poured in. The phone started ringing nonstop, and boxes of snail-mail began arriving in the Washington, D.C., office in droves. At one point, the organization was receiving one contribution per minute.
By midnight Presidents Day -- Feb. 19 -- $500,000 had been raised, and Planned Parenthood had received 15,000 cards to deliver to the White House.
The average contribution was $30; the largest was $1,500. In an age when young people supposedly are uninterested in politics, Molly Smith Watson, who oversaw the campaign, said about 15 percent of e-mails came from colleges and universities.
"College women are beginning to get it," said Watson. "Roe vs. Wade -- something they have taken for granted -- is under serious threat. It very well may be overturned."
Big money still rules in politics and $10,000-a-plate fund-raisers are the rule, yet this Presidents Day campaign proves that people can still make their voices heard about issues that matter to them. As one woman wrote on her card to Bush: "A man who was elected president by 527 votes in Florida can't afford to ignore 15,000 cards."
Planned Parenthood offices all over benefited from the explosion in giving.
In Massachusetts, a small chapter took in $2,000 in a single day. In San Antonio, 195 donors contributed nearly $10,000.
One San Antonio supporter wrote the following to Bush: "Every time you make another move to constrain women's reproductive rights, I will make another contribution to Planned Parenthood. Keep going and soon you will be Planned Parenthood's biggest donor."
Here are a few of the other messages sent to Bush by people across America, most of whom gave less than $50:
From a woman in Auburn, Maine: "My mother almost died from an illegal abortion. I support a women's right to choose. If you can't trust us with a choice, how can you trust us with a child?"
From a woman in Astoria, N.Y.: "Hopefully, my money will speak louder than my vote."
From a woman in Sunderland, Maine: "I am speaking up to say that I believe in reproductive freedom for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for it."
From a man in La Jolla, Calif.: "I offer this humble but proud donation in formal protest."
During the last 30 years, pro-choice activists often have been accused of crying wolf. Although the attacks on Roe vs. Wade have never stopped, abortions have continued to be safe and legal in this country. As a result, organizations such as Planned Parenthood have had difficulty maintaining momentum.
Now that Bush has banned funds for international planning, signaled that he will appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court and directed his secretary of health and human services to review the safety of RU-486, the so-called abortion pill, everyone realizes that the wolf is indeed at the door.
Planned Parenthood will continue accepting contributions in Bush's name and delivering cards to the White House. Already, several first-time givers have vowed to donate a portion of their Bush-induced tax cut to the organization.
In California, columnist Morrison, who started the campaign, said she was astounded that what she thought was a small idea turned out to have such enormous consequences.
"And I will say," said Morrison, "that my pro-choice Republican mother is very proud of me."
Jarboe Russell is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. Contact her at 210-250-3480 or email@example.com.