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NOW elects new president

Gandy vows a fight to uphold Roe v. Wade

Gandy enjoys a laugh while addressing the NOW convention  

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Delegates to the National Organization for Women convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, chose attorney Kim Gandy as the group's next president, succeeding Patricia Ireland, who has held the post for 10 years.

Gandy, a Washington lawyer and the group's executive vice president, takes office in August.

Ireland, who backed Gandy's candidacy, could not stand for the position again because of term limits in the NOW bylaws.

Gandy, 47, said that her immediate concern was blocking efforts by U.S. President George W. Bush to fill future Supreme Court vacancies with jurists who would vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Key to that effort, she said, was electing abortion rights supporters to the U.S. Senate, which confirms or rejects Supreme Court nominees.

"They have more to fear from women's votes than they have to fear from right-wing political and religious zealots," Gandy said shortly after her election was announced early Sunday. Senators who vote to confirm a justice who wants to outlaw abortion will "be put out of office by the women in their states."

Long affiliation with NOW

Gandy said she became a feminist at 19, when she took her first job at a phone company. She said she was asked to sign a form for her company's savings plan required a husband's signature for married women.

"I thought, you know, this doesn't look right," Gandy told CNN. "And I got involved in NOW. I saw them talking about this very law, which was called the Head and Master law, and the next seven years getting rid of it."

A graduate of Louisiana Tech University with a mathematics degree, Gandy shifted her career to law after becoming involved with NOW in 1973. She served as a senior assistant district attorney in New Orleans before opening a private practice, where she focused on women's rights issues, including child support, marital property, domestic violence, sex and race discrimination and lesbian mother custody.

As executive vice president, Gandy has led NOW's litigation, legislative and government relations agenda and sees a continuation of that tack during her presidency.

"From the Bush administration's attacks on women's rights to preparing for a vacancy on the Supreme Court, NOW activists have our hands full protecting the advances we've made together over the past decades and moving forward on women's rights," Gandy said.

She served three years as state NOW president in Louisiana, and was elected to the national board in 1982, taking up the executive vice president post in 1991.

Gandy defeated Toni Van Pelt, a St. Petersburg, Florida, travel agent and the immediate past president of Florida's NOW chapter, for the presidency. The final vote tally was not immediately released.

Proud of her southern roots

The Louisiana native said she is proud of other women from the South, a place she said has not always been favorable to feminist advocacy.

"Women in the South who are feminists, who stand up for women's rights and who speak out on things that aren't fair, are some of the strongest and most amazing women I've ever met," Gandy said.

"A lot of strong women there. But sometimes it is a tough place to make progress on our issues."

Gandy now lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Christopher "Kip" Lornell, an ethnomusicologist and part-time professor of Africana studies at George Washington University. They have two daughters; Elizabeth Cady Lornell and Katherine Eleanor Gandy.

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