More than 300 Wesleyan students (in addition to students from Southern Connecticut State U, Eastern Connecticut State U, Trinity College, and Conn College) filled the Tishler Lecture Hall this afternoon to support Planned Parenthood and listen to speeches by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Southern New England Judy Tabar, President of Wesleyan Michael Roth, Planned Parenthood Campus Interns Zak Kirwood ’12 and Susanna Banks ’13, Alex Ketchum ’12, and Hannah Adams ’13 (daughter of PP’s national president, Richards).
In case you didn’t hear, House Republicans voted to completely defund Planned Parenthood last Saturday. (If you don’t know about PP, now you know.) If the Senate passes the spending bill to which is attached (which it likely/hopefully won’t due to the Democractic majority), millions of Americans will lose an invaluable source of affordable primary and preventive sexual health services. A fact that was shared repeatedly at the rally is helpful here: 1 in 5 women have gone to a Planned Parenthood clinic for health services.
More details, quotes, and photos after the jump.
Zak and Susanna, Wesleyan’s PP Campus Interns, started things off with a few chants, including “Ho ho, hey hey, women’s rights are here to stay!” and characterized the amendment in question as a part of the Republican Party’s larger effort to defund such government-funded institutions as the EPA and Americorp. Alex Ketchum described her personal experience with Planned Parenthood, calling it a “steady beam of hope and reassurance” throughout her life in terms of sexual education.
President Roth took to the microphone next, chastising House Republicans for their agenda. He quoted a line from Zak’s speech earlier, saying that “public life in this country is being threatened,” and that the GOP has tried to play a bait-and-switch with their promises to cut government spending and reduce debt. Mentioning the seats the Republicans gained in the last election cycle, he stated, “We did not elect our representatives to screw the middle class.” He talked about the war against PP as a war against women’s rights, thanked the students for being there, then turned the microphone back over to Zak, who read a message from Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.
Representative DeLauro wrote that 63,000 Connecticut residents receive health services from Planned Parenthood annually, 90% of whom were seeking primary and preventative care (e.g. cancer screenings and STI testing), and one third of whom are on Medicaid. She believes that this move is part of a “Republican agenda to force women back into traditional roles”.
President of PP Southern New England Judy Tabar began her portion of the rally by asking how many of the people in attendance had gone to PP or knew someone who had. Almost every hand in the room went up. Her response was, “Wow.” Then, in repeated moves of reciprocal support that were heartening to watch, she described Senator Richard Blumenthal as a “champion for women’s health,” setting him up for his own speech, in which he called Wesleyan “the kind of academic leadership we need in this nation,” giving a deferential nod to President Roth. (Senator Blumenthal was introduced by Elijah Meadow ’13.)
“I don’t know what the world would look like without Planned Parenthood,” said Sen. Blumenthal, “but I don’t want to find out,” to many murmurs of student approval. Addressing the students more directly, he announced, “I am proud to share this moment in history with you. You are showing America what it is to stand up for American values.”
Student response to Blumenthal’s speech was overwhelmingly positive, partially evident in the signs they waved. Slogans included:
- “I <3 DICK blumenthal”
- Thank You Blumenthal
- Fund 1 year of PP or 3 hours of war
- PP saved my life, save PP now
Hannah Adams spoke next, connecting this rally with the political movements happening across the world. “We are witnessing the power of individuals to come together and fight injustice,” she declared, before introducing her mother, Cecile Richards. Richards spoke about her history in college activism (“I basically majored in protesting. Thank god they gave me a degree.”) and the importance of each single voice in making social change. She also shared a text message she got from her son that day saying that he was on his way to a rally in Youngstown, OH and expressing his support for PP. Richards, like Tabar, lauded Blumenthal for his allegiance to PP, remembering that as Connecticut’s attorney general he sued the government for President George W. Bush’s “denial to service” legislation. Bush’s policy allowed pharmacists to deny women birth control and hospitals to deny rape survivors emergency contraception based on their personal beliefs. (President Obama repealed it last Friday.)
Richards said that Congress has been “playing politics with women’s health and women’s lives. We are here to say we’re not playing.” She also recounted statistics on the services provided by PP, stating that 1.2 million teens get sexual education from PP per year, and 2.5 million women get birth control from PP per year.
After all the speeches were over, a contingent of around 75 attendees brought their signs and voices out of Exley to rally outside on Church Street. The group, shouting “End the war on women!” and “What do we want? Choice! When do we want it? Always!” (among other chants) subsequently marched through Olin Library, to claps and smiles of support from its studious inhabitants. A smaller contingent of 40 or so students walked all the way to Main Street, shouting and waving signs in the increasingly frigid February weather. A “Honk 4 Choice” sign received quite a bit of automotive response, though there was one disconcerting thumbs down from a passing EMT through the window of an ambulance.
If you haven’t signed it, the petition is HERE. Sign it. This is about women’s rights, public health, and so much more.
The Senate will be voting on this bill before March 4.
If you have more photos or videos, send them to staff [at] wesleying [dot] org![EDIT 11 PM: Susanna Banks is the other PP Campus Intern, not Alex Ketchum. Thanks, guest12.] [EDIT 11:10 PM: Elijah Meadow ’13 also spoke, introducing Senator Blumenthal. Thanks, PPOrganizer.]