President Obama vowed to fight against efforts to roll back women’s basic rights on Friday in an address to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America–the first from a sitting president–that shamed opponents’ recent attempts to ban or severely limit a woman’s right to choose. Standing before nearly 1,000 supporters of the organization in Washington D.C., Obama mounted a full-throated defense of Planned Parenthood’s fundamental values.
“For nearly a century now, one core principle has guided everything all of you do: that women should be allowed to make their own decisions about their own health,” said President Obama at the organization’s annual gathering.
“It’s a simple principle,” he said over resounding applause.
The president was originally slated to speak at the event Thursday evening, but decided to postpone in order spend more time with victims’ family members and those injured in last week’s deadly West, Texas, explosion.
In his address Friday, President Obama highlighted the work of the organization to promote women’s health, ranging from providing cancer screenings to counseling, in addition to family planning services.
“Somewhere there’s a woman who just received a new lease on life because of a screening that you provided that helped catch her cancer in time,” said President Obama. “Somewhere there’s a woman who’s breathing easier today because of the support and counseling she got at her local Planned Parenthood health clinic. Somewhere there’s a young woman starting a career who, because of you, is able to decide for herself when she wants to start a family.”
He went on to shame Republican efforts to defund the organization, saying that many women need it “not just for contraceptive care, but for life-saving preventive care.”
“One in five women in the country has turned to Planned Parenthood for health care. One in five,” said the president. “And for many, Planned Parenthood is their primary source of health care….So when politicians try to turn Planned Parenthood into a punching bag, they’re not just talking about you; they’re talking about the millions of women who you serve. When they talk about cutting off your funding, let’s be clear, they’re talking about telling many of those women, ‘You’re on your own.’ They’re talking about shutting those women out at a time when they may need it most, shutting off communities that need more health care options for women, not less.”
Planned Parenthood advocacy groups played an instrumental role in President Obama’s reelection efforts last year, reportedly spending $15 million on ads, phone calls, events, mail, and door-to-door canvassing. The group was under siege by Republicans in the House attempting to cut federal funding for the organization, a plan Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised to carry out if elected. The Obama administration fought to preserve funding for the national family planning program.
“President Obama has done more than any president in history for women’s health and rights,” said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in a statement. “We are honored to have President Obama join us at our ‘Time for Care’ Gala at this pivotal moment for women’s health.”
Efforts to dismantle the organization have not slowed since Obama won reelection with 55% of the women’s vote. In the past two months, four states–Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, and North Dakota–have adopted some of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the nation. And earlier this month, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus suggested that Planned Parenthood endorsed infanticide based on a widely-circulated video in which a Florida representative from the organization offered vague answers about what to do with babies born after botched abortions. Planned Parenthood clarified that such circumstances were “extremely unlikely and highly unusual,” but that if it did happen, “Planned Parenthood would provide appropriate care to both the woman and the infant.”
“This is how dramatically out of touch the chairman of the RNC and the Republican party are with women,” said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on msnbc Friday in reference to Priebus’ accusation. “The women made it very clear on election day that the Republican Party is dead to them.”
Women’s health care advocate Sandra Fluke agreed that this election proved it’s not only “the right thing to do,” but it’s also, “smart electoral politics” to stand with women. “You stand against them at your peril,” she said on msnbc Friday.
At the Planned Parenthood gala Thursday night, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was given an award for his work in improving Los Angeles women’s health care. Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer (Dr. Ruth,) and Girls creator Lena Dunham were also honored for promoting open conversations about women’s sexuality.