President Obama on Friday became the first sitting president to address Planned Parenthood’s annual meeting, delivering a strongly worded speech defending the embattled organization.
“We shouldn’t have to remind people that when it comes to women’s health, no politician should get to decide what’s best for you,” said Obama, who was greeted by sustained applause when he took the stage.
Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest provider of reproductive health services, including abortion — and other women’s health groups worked hard to re-elect Obama last year, and were instrumental in shepherding support for his first-term health care overhaul legislation. And it was clear Friday that he is still leaning on the organizations for help promoting and sustaining the Affordable Care Act, which remains under sustained attack.
“I know how hard you worked to help us pass health care reform,” he said, urging those gathered to now “get the word out” about coverage for women — from contraception to breast cancer screenings — required by the ACA.
“I know it’s not always easy,” he said, acknowledging the pushback that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards spoke of before introducing the president.
“Cecile describes Planned Parenthood as the only organization she’s ever been at where there are opponents, in her words, who literally get up every day trying to keep us from doing our work,” he said, adding: “Now, if she’d worked in our administration, she’d be more familiar with this phenomenon.”
The president noted that battles over women’s reproductive care have been playing out across the country. There have been efforts in 42 states, he said, to curtail access — most notably in North Dakota, where a new measure bans abortions after six weeks. He also mentioned Mississippi, where voters recently turned back an effort to ban most contraception measures, and define life as beginning at conception.
“When you read about some of these laws, you want to check the calendar,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re still living in 2013.”
Obama also vowed to fight those who want to end the group’s federal funding. “Planned Parenthood is not going anywhere,” he said.
Obama was originally scheduled to speak at the organization’s planned Thursday gala. His appearance was rescheduled, the White House said, to allow the president and Michele Obama to attend a memorial service in West, Texas, for victims of the recent fertilizer plant explosion.