HYDE PARK — Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards said Tuesday the fight for reproductive rights is entering a brutal period under President Donald Trump's administration that could be on par with battles that took place during the civil rights movement and push for women’s suffrage.
Richards, who was at the University of Chicago Law School on Tuesday evening as the speaker for the Schwartz Memorial Lecture, said Planned Parenthood and its allies are entering a time where it will feel like they’re fighting for the soul of the nation.
“Look around, we actually are living at one of those times, we actually are at a crossroads for America,” Richards said to an audience of mostly university students.
Before a crowd of about 150 people, Richards said she believed the organization under Trump’s administration would be fighting to maintain the gains it had made at the federal level, such as guaranteeing insurance coverage for birth control through the Affordable Care Act under Barack Obama’s administration.
Earlier Tuesday, Congressional Republicans said they were gearing up to cut the $550 million in federal funding the organization gets, mostly through Medicaid, and renewing efforts to limit access to abortions, according to reports in Politico.
Trump on Tuesday also announced he would put forward Georgia Congressman Tom Price as his pick to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Price is an advocate of repealing the Affordable Care Act, and insurance for birth control is guaranteed not through the law, but through Health and Human Services rules that Price could change without Congressional approval.
Richards said she believes that the American public should and will protest any rollbacks on access to birth control by the Trump administration.
“My fear is that the folks who got in now are going to try to erase all of that and you cannot let that happen,” Richards told the audience. “It’s not the civil rights movement, it’s not the suffragist movement, but it’s about as close as we’re going to see in our lifetime.”
She said Trump’s election has sparked a wave of support for Planned Parenthood and requests for services by people who fear the organization will soon be more limited in its scope.
Richards said Planned Parenthood had a 900 percent increase in requests the day after the election for intrauterine devices, a form of long-term birth control.
She said the organization has added more than 500,000 new supporters in the last six months and in the past several weeks has received donations from more than 260,000 people. She said approximately 70,000 donations were made in the name of Mike Pence, the soon-to-be vice president who is a well known adversary of Planned Parenthood.
Richards said she did not expect the gains in the coming years for the organization to happen at the federal level.
“As many defensive battles as we’re going to be in, we always need to be playing offense … and I think that’s going to be at the state level,” Richards said.
She said Planned Parenthood would be renewing efforts to combat sexual assault and harassment and providing access to clinicians for women through video chat and other technologies.
“There are some advances in the world that even politics can’t reverse,” Richards said.
The audience was largely supportive of Richards' points, but the event was protested by a small group of eight activists in front of the law school, who arrived late and missed many of the students coming into the event and were gone by the time the event concluded.
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