One of the nation’s most well-known leaders in women’s health and reproductive rights came to the Montana State University campus Friday with a message: Women better pay attention to this election.
“The stakes for women are high in this election,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told an audience of about 50 people at the Strand Union Building.
She joined Stacy James, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Montana, and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester at a roundtable event to discuss politics and issues surrounding women’s health.
“There’s an attack out there like I have never seen before,” said Tester, a Democrat.
He tells his daughters that their mother didn’t have to fight for access to basic reproductive health care – that fight was taken on by their grandmother – but they might have to repeat it.
“That should motivate you,” Tester said. “This is serious and real, and can do bad things for women and the country…Things will not get better unless you step up.”
Richards, who was recently named to Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, said the thought that her daughters might have to fight that fight again is “absolutely untenable.”
She emphasized that women can make a difference with their votes. She called Tester a “champion” of women’s health issues and decried U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is challenging Tester this year for his Senate seat, for supporting cuts to Planned Parenthood facilities across the country.
Rehberg’s office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
James said women need to get out the vote, now and in June. She noted several ballot initiatives that she believes need to be defeated, such as CI-108, which calls for the state constitution to define “person” as beings “at every stage of development,” including fertilization and conception.
If passed, James said the initiative would ban certain forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization and abortion. Women who had miscarriages would also be investigated to determine whether they were responsible for the loss.
James said she thinks the initiative “will be soundly defeated in Montana.”
Those who attended the round table had a chance to ask questions after each person spoke.
When asked about abortions, Richards noted that Planned Parenthood does more to prevent abortions than any other organization. Providing contraception keeps unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place, she said.
“You can’t want to decrease abortions and cut off access to birth control,” Richards said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
It was also noted that in the last legislative session, more anti-choice bills were proposed than in any other state. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, vetoed all of them.
“The Montana state Legislature a year ago was the only place more screwed up than D.C.,” Tester said. “Women were compared to cattle at one point.”
Tester said the state’s legislative and gubernatorial races will also be extremely important this year.
As far as the Senate race, Richards said an on-the-ground, grassroots effort is all that can combat the millions of outside dollars flooding into Montana to influence which candidate wins.
Katie Goodman, co-author of the popular Broad Comedy performances, encouraged students to share women’s health information with others via social media and videos. With creativity and comedy, the message can be shared with even more people, she said.
Former legislator Brady Wiseman said it’s up to young people to make a change.
“You could be passive and let it happen or change the world,” he said.
Carly Flandro may be reached at 582-2638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.