On Jan. 14, 2014, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards addressed journalists at the National Press Club about women's health and the 114th Congress. This was her speech.

You have all probably followed this — everyone from Tom Brokaw to Hillary Clinton has said this is the Century of the Woman. And since we’ve only had to wait 200,000 years, there’s no time like the present!

Around the globe, there is a powerful conversation unfolding that recognizes women’s advancement is key to peace, political stability, and economic growth — and access to reproductive health care is key to women’s advancement.

Unfortunately, one place that conversation doesn’t seem to be happening (or is happening in reverse) is the U.S. House of Representatives. Women — and this country — are at a critical moment.

The decisions being made today by leaders in Washington and across the country will determine whether the U.S. can keep up with progress on a global scale — whether we move forward, expanding opportunities for women as we have for the last century, or whether we begin to fall behind. 

There are three main points I want to make: 

  1. Access to a reproductive health care has completely changed life for women in America.
  2. Women’s success is key to progress  an agenda that advances women’s reproductive rights is fundamental to our success both here and around the globe. 
  3. Politicians who are trying to erase women’s progress are on the wrong side of history and are definitely on the wrong side of the future. 

First, to level set:
A little bit about where we came from.

In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first later-named Planned Parenthood health center, a tiny storefront in Brooklyn, New York. For ten cents, women could receive a pamphlet on how to prevent unintended pregnancy — which was completely illegal. From day one, women lined up around the block — pushing baby buggies, babies in their arms.

Ten days later, an undercover police officer posing as a mother busted Margaret, and she was thrown in jail … Where she taught her fellow inmates about birth control!

And a movement was born. 

Fast forward to today. 

One in five women in America have been to Planned Parenthood for health care — around 2.7 million last year. And through birth control, we prevent approximately half a million unintended pregnancies annually. Planned Parenthood teaches sex education to 1.6 million students every year. We proudly provide safe and legal abortion. We reach folks 24 hours a day, seven days a week online with 6 million visits each month — providing the kind of information about contraception, sex, and reproductive health that was illegal when Margaret Sanger started. 

And as a result, women’s lives have changed dramatically in the U.S.:

  • Women are now a majority of undergraduate students in America.
  • The number of women who complete four or more years of college is five times what it was before birth control became legal.
  • Women earn half of all doctorate degrees, half of medical degrees, and a half of law degrees.
  • We are engineers and scientists and nurses and mothers and astronauts.
  • And remarkably, there are 20 women in the U.S. Senate — though as Senator Claire McCaskill says: You know what would be better? 50.

For young women in America, the idea that pregnancy alone will determine their destiny is unthinkable today. They fully expect that birth control, and yes, safe and legal abortion, will be available to them — and they should. According to research from the National Campaign, young people (not just women, but men too) are more likely than any other generation in our country’s history to believe abortion should be available in their community. And when the care they count on now and for their future is threatened, they come roaring back in force.

  • When the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011 tried to block millions of people from coming to Planned Parenthood for health care, women (and many men) took to the streets, organized on campuses — and they took over social media, which was a big reason the House of Representatives voted to protect Planned Parenthood.
  • Our supporters also helped make Hobby Lobby a household name — and not for macramé or glitter glue. It’s now associated by millions of people with attacks on birth control that are wildly out of touch and completely outrageous to young people.
  • And now that through the Affordable Care Act, nearly 50 million women are getting a full range of preventive care, including birth control, with zero copay? When it comes to birth control, this ship has sailed. 

Which brings me to my second point:

Advancing women’s reproductive rights is absolutely essential to our country’s economic success.

As it turns out, making sure women can reach their full potential isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do. 

Look at us today. Women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households with children. 

Women save more than men. And when they spend, they are more likely to invest their income in their families and communities. Women-owned firms are the fastest growing segment of new business in the U.S. and research shows a correlation between more women on corporate boards and higher profits. 

Empowered women are able to empower families. They empower communities, societies, and the world. 

When it comes to growing the global economy — I love this recent quote from the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde:

“A key part of the solution is staring us in the face: unleashing the economic power of women. Bring the world’s largest excluded group into the fold.”

Which brings me to my final point:
You can’t be for growth and progress but vote to take women back to the 1950s.

And yet what we’re seeing in the new Congress and in too many state legislatures is another round of politically motivated attacks on women and their right to make their own personal medical decisions.

The new Congress is introducing anti-women’s health bill at a rate of one bill every day they’ve been in session — from an unconstitutional ban on abortion at 20 weeks, to medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers, to legislation that would block Planned Parenthood from family planning funding. The list goes on. 

In South Carolina, we’ve already seen that the state legislature is trying to ban abortion at six weeks. In Colorado and Florida, they’ve introduced legislation that would ban abortion from the earliest moment in pregnancy. The attacks we’ve already seen from this Congress reflect at best a fundamental lack of understanding of women’s lives and our needs — and at worst a deeply disturbing worldview.

That’s why last November anti-women’s health politicians ran from their records — adopted totally new positions. The politicians pushing these restrictions are on the wrong side of public opinion, the wrong side of public health, and the wrong side of the future. And the truth is: They know it.

According to the latest Pew research on the subject, four out of five of people in this country reject the idea that women should go back to “traditional roles.”

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any young women — including my two daughters — who looks back longingly at the days when women had fewer options in life. They look forward to something better.

We cannot move ahead if half the population is left behind. 

So, Congress: If you want to grow the economy, if you want to compete globally, if you want to unleash the potential of all American people — there are some things you can do, right now, today, to protect women’s health:

  • Expand access to publicly funded family planning services. They save lives, they save money. This is the single best way to support women who can go to school and support their families.
  • Support medically accurate, age appropriate sex education for every young person in this country. Even with teen pregnancy at historic lows, there were about 615,000 last year, it still costs the U.S. $9.4 billion each year — more importantly, it costs these women opportunities and their futures. We’ve got work to do.
  • Really make birth control available and accessible — over the counter, at the doctor’s office, but always fully covered by insurance with no copay just like all other women’s preventive care. It’s amazing: In just one year under the Affordable Care Act, women saved $483 million more than the year before we had this benefit. We need to keep moving in that direction.
  • Support efforts to strengthen and protect Medicaid  so women and families who most need affordable health care can get it.
  • Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act so that abortion is always safe and legal, no matter where you live.

These aren’t partisan issues — or at least it certainly shouldn’t be. Ask Senator Mark Kirk, who says, “I want to make sure that we don’t overturn Roe v. Wade and make sure that the decision rests with each American woman.”

Instead of playing politics with women’s health, we need to address the disparities in this country:

  • Teen girls in Mississippi are twice as likely to experience pregnancy as their counterparts in Massachusetts.
  • Women who live in West Virginia and are four times as likely to die from cervical cancer than women who live in Minnesota. 

We’ve also seen the progress that’s possible when doors are open to women to access health care — when policies embrace science, embrace medicine, embrace the direction this country has been going, should be going, and expand access to health care instead of standing in the way.

I saw it on a college campus in Des Moines when a young woman proudly told me she’s graduating this spring thanks to two things: scholarships and birth control. I saw it here in Washington, a former Planned Parenthood patient named Rebekah was able to finish community college, earn a master’s degree, and get a job working for a congressman — all because she had access to affordable reproductive health care.

I saw it in my home state of Texas two summers ago, when I met a young man at a protest carrying a sign that said “I still have my mom thanks to cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood.” 

For nearly a century, Planned Parenthood has stood for care — no matter what. 

Not only that — we stand for the power of women to determine their own lives and futures and this country is better for it.

And we’re not standing alone. I’m so grateful to our coalition partners here today. We’re standing with our 8 million supporters — patients and staff at hundreds of health centers, partners in communities, and allies in Congress.

We have never shied away from a challenge — and we’re not going to start now.

Thank you for being here. I’m happy to take your questions. 

Tags: Congress, Cecile Richards, 20-week ban, Speech, Abortion

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