President of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards ’80 spoke on campus Friday to advocate for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her presidential campaign, highlighting Clinton’s support for women’s rights and health. Hosted by Brown Students for Hillary, the rally was held in MacMillan Hall’s Starr Auditorium.
Richards took the stage to great applause and spoke of her time at Brown and the campus activism that pushed the University to divest from South Africa. She added that she returned to campus 30 years later when Nelson Mandela received an honorary degree from the University.
Shifting to more recent stories, Richards recounted Planned Parenthood’s battle to make emergency contraception accessible to everyone, noting Clinton’s advocacy for that goal while she was a senator. Working with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, Clinton refused to go forward with the nomination of the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration until it decided whether to approve emergency contraception as an over-the-counter product.
“It took a few more years, and we had to have a few more battles. But now basically you can get emergency contraception pretty much everywhere 24/7,” Richards said. “Right now we are at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy in America. That didn’t happen because people stopped having sex.”
Richards addressed the Republican candidates in the race as she stressed the importance of women’s health. “They’ve all pledged to get rid of Planned Parenthood and deny folks access to basic health care, so I just think the stakes are enormously high,” Richards said. “That’s going to become clearer and clearer as we get towards November.”
In a Palm Beach rally ahead of the Florida primaries, Republican candidate Donald Trump said that he would not fund Planned Parenthood while it performed abortions, but noted how many women the organization had helped.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT, has taken a similar stance on the organization as Clinton, but she has criticized him for sidelining the issue in comparison to his socioeconomic agenda. But in a campaign statement on his website, Sanders said that he will not “allow the extreme right-wing to defund Planned Parenthood, we are going to expand it.”
Richards was introduced by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-RI, and Michelle Kwan, a two-time Olympic medalist in figure skating who worked for the Department of State after returning to school to study international relations and political science at the end of her career.
Kwan emphasized Clinton’s knowledge of foreign and domestic policy, as well as her commitment to families. “We need somebody with experience — somebody that will fight for us,” Kwan said. “So will you fight for her?”
Cicilline highlighted Clinton’s devotion to rebuilding the middle class, making college financially accessible and protecting women’s right to make their own choices, among other causes. “We need someone who will be able to withstand what will continue to be a vicious, unfair Republican assault,” Cicilline said.
Richards has been the “most eloquent voice” responding to “often insane, crazy, vicious attacks” on a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, Cicilline said. “That’s an issue on which we won’t compromise as Democrats,” he added. “Our nation owes her a tremendous debt.”
“Bernie’s right on the issues of Planned Parenthood, but Hillary’s a strong advocate,” Sterl Carpenter, president of the state-wide federation of College Democrats and a University of Rhode Island student, told The Herald. “There are women who have less rights than they did years ago, and it shouldn’t go backwards.”
Richards recalled President Barack Obama’s announcement that birth control would now be covered by insurance for all women at no cost and applauded his refusal to defund Planned Parenthood. She wants to ensure the United States builds on the support for women’s health generated during his terms, she added.
A couple days after a presidential debate in which Obama mentioned Planned Parenthood several times, a woman walked into one of the organization’s health centers in Houston, Texas having found a lump in her breast, Richards said. When the clinician asked who referred her to Planned Parenthood, she said, “I didn’t know where to go, but I heard President Obama say on TV the other night that you do breast exams, and that’s why I’m here.”
People are “counting on government to do the right thing,” Richards added.
Elena Saltzman ’16 and Emma Dickson ’16, the leaders of Brown Students for Hillary, have long supported the former secretary of state. “She imbued the State Department with feminism — with fighting for women and girls around the world,” Saltzman said. “Having a woman in the White House means that we no longer have women’s issues off to the side.”
“Having someone with significant diplomatic experience is critically important to me,” Dickson said, adding that she also values Clinton’s advocacy for victims of gun violence.
Clinton is “quite possibly the most qualified person to ever run for president,” Carpenter said, adding that he was excited to vote for the candidate Tuesday.
“I think we’re going to see a very competitive race here in Rhode Island,” Cicilline said. “This is the most important election of our lifetime.”
Saltzman echoed this expectation. “It’s very rare that there’s this incredibly competitive, incredibly exciting election going on in Rhode Island that you can make a difference in,” she said.