Planned Parenthood: Blumenthal, Richards Speak at Rally
“They say no choice, we say pro-choice!” The chant echoed throughout Exley 150 on Saturday afternoon.
Planned Parenthood campus interns Zak Kirwood ’12 and Susanna Banks ’13 along with rally organizers Alex Ketchum ’12, Hannah Adams ’13, and Elijah Meadow ’13 led the assembled crowd of approximately 400 in a series of cheers before speakers Senator Richard Blumenthal, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, and Planned Parenthood President of Southern New England Judy Tabar took the podium. Spurred by a vote by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Feb. 18 to bar Planned Parenthood from federal funding through Title X, the student-organized event was intended to gather support for the organization and illustrate the gravity of the situation, said event organizers.
“By far this is the most dangerous assault on women’s health in our history,” Banks said to the crowd.
According to a press release from Planned Parenthood, the organization provides contraception to almost 2.5 million patients and four million tests for STIs. Additionally, Planned Parenthood carries almost one million screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams, the statement read.
Dotted with bright pink shirts, posters, and pins, reading “I Stand with Planned Parenthood,” the room was filled with Wesleyan students, as well as supporters from throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island. Some students made their own signs ranging from supportive slogans for Blumenthal to pithy slogans like, “Don’t Be Push-Ovaries, Stand Up!” Attendees applauded, pounded the tables, and gave standing ovations at almost every interval.
Ketchum took the podium to begin, and shared her personal thank you letter to Planned Parenthood, explaining how she had turned to the organization’s website for information about birth control and reproductive health that she said wasn’t available at her high school.
President Michael Roth gave an impromptu speech in support of Planned Parenthood. Although Roth told The Argus that he generally prefers not to take a direct stand that’s politically polarizing, he felt it necessary to attend and show support for the Planned Parenthood rally. Roth compared the proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood with proposed cuts to financial aid for private universities.
“The attack on women’s reproductive rights and the attack on financial aid are both about keeping people from having the capacity to transform their lives, and what they do is reinforce existing elites,” he said in an interview with The Argus. “It would be a disaster educationally.”
Tabar followed Roth’s speech, and spoke about Planned Parenthood’s impact on the Southern New England region. She asked that everyone in the room raise their hands if they had ever been to Planned Parenthood for healthcare services or knew anyone who had. Nearly everyone in the room raised their hand.
“It’s great to look out at you today and know that you are the face of the reproductive justice movement for the future,” she said.
Tabar encouraged everyone in attendance to write letters, make calls, and sign the petition to show their support for Planned Parenthood. Although it is unlikely to pass, the measure must go before the Democrat-controlled Senate prior to March 4.
“This dangerous legislation would have a disastrous effect on women and families,” she said.
Switching gears, Blumenthal made a pointed effort to vocally galvanize the audience.
“I am so excited and honored to be here today,” Blumenthal said. “I just have one simple question for you, ‘Are we going to win this fight?’”
As cheers, as well as “I love Dick!” and “Dick supports my Vagina,” posters, greeted Blumenthal’s question, he added, “We want to make sure that this Republican amendment is defeated.”
Blumenthal explained that he was attending the rally as a public figure, a man, a father, and a husband, and that his entire family supports Planned Parenthood.
“I don’t know what the world would be like without Planned Parenthood, but I don’t want to find out,” he said.
Blumenthal encouraged supporters to contact people outside of the state of Connecticut to contact their senators and urge them to vote against defunding Planned Parenthood.
“There is no room for neutrality in this fight,” he said.
Lastly, Adams introduced Richards—who is her mother—to the crowd. Richards spoke not only about her experience with Planned Parenthood, but also her activism as a student at Brown University, where she protested apartheid. She explained that although a student now may not feel like their effort is making a difference, one may be pleasantly surprised later down the road, just as she was when Brown presented Nelson Mandela with an Honorary Degree at her last reunion.
“Basically the House of Representatives has declared a war on women’s healthcare and we’re here to say ‘Not without a fight, and not on my watch,’ ” she said.
Richards also encouraged students to attend Planned Parenthood’s National Day of Action in Washington D.C. on April 7. The rally ended as supporters took their signs out to the Church Street sidewalk to rally added support.