Barack Obama: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, well, Ariana, thanks for stealing the show. [Laughter] That’s how, that’s how we teach young people at Trinity United Church of Christ. They’re not shy. It’s so wonderful to see and thank you for the wonderful introduction and the great work that you are doing. You’re representing the church and the city of Chicago very, very well. All right—give her a round of applause [Applause].
I heard, Ariana, I heard your folks are here, where are they—Oh, I see, the one with the camera [Laughter] video taping everything. All right, I should have figured that out. Well, you should be proud, she’s extraordinary.
Thanks to all of you at Planned Parenthood for all the work that you are doing for women all across the country and for families all across the country—and for men, who have enough sense to realize you are helping them, all across the country. I want to thank Cecile Richards for her extraordinary leadership. I’m happy to see so many good friends here today, including Steve Trombley and Pam Sutherland from my home state of Illinois. We had a number of battles down in Springfield for many many years and it is wonderful to see that they are here today.
You know it’s been a little over five months since I announced my candidacy for President of the United States of America and everywhere we’ve been, we’ve been inspired by these enormous crowds. We had twenty thousand people in Atlanta, twenty thousand people in Austin, Texas, fifteen thousand people in Oakland, California and I would love to take all the credit for these crowds myself, to say to myself that it’s just because I’m just so fabulous, but [Laughter] my wife says otherwise. Michele, I think, confirms that these crowds are not about me. It’s about the hunger all across America for something different. It’s about the sense that we can do better—that we’ve come to a crossroads, that we’re not pointed in the right direction.
And as I look out over these crowds—and they are a wonderful cross-section of the country, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, disabled, gay, straight, old, young—what I’m heartened to see is particularly the young people who are getting their first chance to be part of a larger movement of Americans. I see young women who are Ariana’s age and younger, and I think about my own two daughters, Sasha and Malia, and sometimes it makes me stop and makes me wonder: what kind of America will our daughters grow up in?
What kind of America will our daughters grow up in?
Will our daughters grow up with the same opportunities as our sons? Will our daughters have the same rights, the same dreams, the same freedoms to pursue their own version of happiness? I wonder because there’s a lot at stake in this country today. And there’s a lot at stake in this election, especially for our daughters. To appreciate that all you have to do is review the recent decisions handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States. For the first time in Gonzales versus Carhart, the Supreme Court held—upheld a federal ban on abortions with criminal penalties for doctors. For the first time, the Court’s endorsed an abortion restriction without an exception for women’s health. The decision presumed that the health of women is best protected by the Court—not by doctors and not by the woman herself. That presumption is wrong.
Some people argue that the federal ban on abortion was just an isolated effort aimed at one medical procedure—that it’s not part of a concerted effort to roll back the hard-won rights of American women. That presumption is also wrong.
Within hours of the decision, an Alabama lawmaker introduced a measure to ban all abortions. With one more vacancy on the Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a woman’s fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe versus Wade and that is what is at stake in this election. The only thing more disturbing than the decision was the rationale of the majority. Without any hard evidence, Justice Kennedy proclaimed, “It is self-evident that a woman would regret her choice.” He cited medical uncertainty about the need to protect the health of pregnant women. Even though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found no such uncertainty. Justice Kennedy knows many things, my understanding is he does not know how to be a doctor.
[Laughter and Applause]
He dismissed as mere preferences the reasoned judgments of the nation’s doctors. We’ve seen time after time these last few years when the president says otherwise, when the science is inconvenient, when the facts don’t match up with the ideology, they are cast aside. Well, it’s time for us to change that. It is time for a different attitude in the White House. It is time for a different attitude in the Supreme Court. It is time to turn the page and write a new chapter in American history.
We know that five men don’t know better than women and their doctors what’s best for a woman’s health. We know that it’s about whether or not women have equal rights under the law. We know that a woman’s right to make a decision about how many children she wants to have and when—without government interference—is one of the most fundamental freedoms we have in this country. We also know that there was another voice that came from the bench—a voice clear in reasoning and passionate in dissent. The voice rejected what she called, quote “Ancient notions of women’s place in the family and under the Constitution. Ideas that have long been discredited.” Unquote. One commentator called the decision in Gonzales, “An attack on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s entire life’s work.” And it was. But we heard Justice Ginsburg and we know what she was saying. She was saying, “We’ve been there before and we are not going back. [Applause] We refuse to go back. [Applause]”
We know, we know it’s not just one decision. It’s the blow dealt to equal pay in the Ledbetter [v. Goodyear] case, it’s the blow dealt to integration in the school desegregation case, it’s an approach to the law that favors the powerful over the powerless—that holds up a flawed ideology over the rights of the individual. We don’t see America in these decisions—that’s not who we are as a people. We’re a country founded on the principle of equality and freedom. We’re the country that’s fought generation after generation to extend that equality to the many not restrict it to the few. We’ve been there before and we’re not going back.
I have worked on these issues for decades now. I put Roe at the center of my lesson plan on reproductive freedom when I taught Constitutional Law. Not simply as a case about privacy but as part of the broader struggle for women’s equality. Steve and Pam will tell you that we fought together in the Illinois State Senate against restrictive choice legislation—laws just like the federal abortion laws, the federal abortion bans that are cropping up. I’ve stood up for the freedom of choice in the United States Senate and I stand by my votes against the confirmation of Judge Roberts and Samuel Alito [Applause]
So, you know where I stand. But this more is than just about standing our ground. It must be about more than protecting the gains of the past. We’re at a crossroads right now in America—and we have to move this country forward. This election is not just about playing defense, it’s also about playing offense. It’s not just about defending what is, it’s about creating what might be in this country. And that’s what we’ve got to work together on.
There will always be people, many of goodwill, who do not share my view on the issue of choice. On this fundamental issue, I will not yield and Planned Parenthood will not yield. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find common ground. Because we know that what’s at stake is more than whether or not a woman can choose an abortion.
Choice is about how we lead our lives. It’s about our families and about our communities. It’s about our daughters and whether they’re going to have the same opportunities as our sons. There are those who want us to believe otherwise. They want us to believe that there’s nothing that unites us as Americans—there’s only what divides us. They’ll seek out the narrowest and most divisive ground. That is the strategy—to always argue small instead of looking at the big picture. They will stand in the way of any attempt to find common ground.
At a time when a real war is being fought abroad they would have us fight cultural wars here at home. But I am absolutely convinced that culture wars are so nineties; their days are growing dark, it is time to turn the page. We want a new day here in America. We’re tired about arguing about the same ole’ stuff. [Applause] And I am convinced we can win that argument. If the argument is narrow, then oftentimes we lose. But if you ask everybody—you ask the most conservative person—do they want their daughters to have the same chances as men?, most will answer in the affirmative. The vast majority will answer in the affirmative.
We can win that argument. We can turn this page.
It is time to turn the page on policies that fail to deal with tragedy of ten thousand American teenagers getting an STD everyday. Of fifty-five contracting HIV and another twenty-four hundred becoming pregnant. It’s time to turn the page on a stance that refuses compassionate support of victims of rape and sexual assault. Not even to the brave servicewomen fighting for our country who aren’t getting the support they need when they come home as veterans of the United States of America. [Applause] If they’re fighting for us, they should be getting the services that they deserve. It’s time to turn the page on a policies that provides almost 1.5 billion dollar to teach abstinence in our schools but refuses to teach basic science and basic contraception.
Pam, we’ve been through these fights in Illinois, we’re going to be in these fights here in Washington. There’s nothing wrong with science. It’s actually made our lives better. [Applause] Let’s teach science to our kids. We need, we need to make choices about what happens before pregnancy. It’s a false argument to say that the only way to prevent disease and unintended pregnancy is abstinence education. Just as it is a false argument to say that the only way is through contraception. As Martin Luther King used to say, “It’s not either/or it’s both/and.”
There’s a moral component to prevention. And we shouldn’t be shy about acknowledging it. As parents, as family members, we need to encourage young people to show reverence toward sexuality and intimacy. We need to teach that not just to the young girls, we need to teach it to those young boys. [Applause] But [Applause] But even as we are teaching those lessons, we should never be willing to consign a teenage girl to a lifetime of struggle because of a lack of access to birth control or a lifetime of illness because she doesn’t understand how to protect herself. That’s just commonsense. There’s common ground on behalf of commonsense—there we have an opportunity to move forward and agree.
People of all faiths—from members of Ariana’s and my church, Trinity United Church of Christ to United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, understand that we cannot ignore that abstinence and fidelity may too often be the ideal but often not the reality.
We need more programs in our communities like the National Black Church Initiative which empowers our young people by teaching them about reproductive health, sex education and teen pregnancy within the context of the African-American faith tradition.
We need more leadership at the federal level. That’s why I’m an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act. [Applause] To guarantee equity in contraceptive coverage, provide comprehensive sex education in our schools and offer rape victims factually accurate information about emergency contraception.
We need to tackle the tragedy of unintended teen pregnancy. When seven hundred and fifty thousand teens become pregnant every year, and half of Latina and black teens will become mothers before reaching their twenties, it’s not just a public health problem. If we reduce teen pregnancy, we can also reduce poverty.
Now the good news is that there has been a decline in the teen birth rate,in part due to the outstanding work of Planned Parenthood. But we all know that we can do more. That’s why I’ve been working on this in Congress. Today, I introduced the Communities of Color Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act to increase funding for programs to combat this problem in communities all across this country working with grassroots organizations [Applause] to increase education. We need, we need to ensure that pharmaceutical companies can offer discounted drugs to safety net providers like Planned Parenthood [Applause] and university clinics so that access, so that access to affordable contraception is not just a privilege for the few but an option for all women. It’s amazing how many women tell me the stories of how important it was for Planned Parenthood to provide them services when they were in college and they did not have the health insurance or the access to a regular doctor that they needed. To be able to have somebody they could trust to deal with so many of their basic and essential health issues.
And we can’t stop there because we know that there is more at stake. The struggle for equality is also a struggle for opportunity. You’ve worked in the communities. You’ve seen women and families trying to keep pace. You’ve seen our daughters hit the glass ceilings and come to closed doors.
The social contract in this country was made for a time when most women stayed at home with the kids. But even though this time is long passed, we still have social policies designed around the old model. The, as Justice Ginsberg said, “Ancient notions of women’s place in the family,” and so women still receive less in pay, less in health benefits, less in pensions, less in social security. When women go on maternity leave, America is the only country in the industrialized world to let them go unpaid.
If you’re a single mom, like my mom was, and you can’t afford health insurance for yourself and you’re trying to figure out whether your kids are going to be covered or not, the message from this current administration is: tough luck, that’s the breaks.
The truth is, too often our daughters don’t have the same opportunities as our sons. But that’s not who we are. That’s not the America we want for our children and I am absolutely convinced that we can make this change. We can update the social contract so that caring for a newborn baby isn’t a three month break, it’s a paid leave—so that all of our children have basic health care. [Applause]
We should be ashamed that the President of the United States is fighting providing health insurance coverage to all children because he’s worried that’s socialized medicine. He would rather fight an ideological battle than make certain that children who have preventable illnesses, like asthma, are getting regular checkups instead of going to the emergency room, which is costing all of us more money.
We can update the social contract so that our kids can go to school earlier and stay longer; so that a mom can stay home with a sick child without getting a pink slip; we can go to work, she can go to work—knowing that there is affordable quality child care for her children; so that more families can stay together and prosper and our daughters have no limits to the shape of their dreams.
We can make these changes but first we gotta get rid of the can’t-do-won’t-do-won’t-even-try style of government that we’ve had in Washington over the last several years. An administration that says, “We don’t have the money to do it.” But we’ve got ten billion dollars a month to fight a war in Iraq that should have never been authorized [applause] and should have never been waged. We can find the money to make sure our daughters have the same rights as our son.
We can make this change.
We can make this change but first we have to get rid of the politics that’s obsessed with who’s up and who’s down. A politics that is power for power’s sake. A politics of cynicism and fear—fear, above all, of the future.
This kind of change is about more than any one judicial appointment or law—as important as they may be—it also about leadership.
It’s about not settling for what America is but working for what America might be.
You know, I’m here as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America because I had a grandmother who never got more than a high school education. But she worked on a bomber assembly line—she was Rosie the Riveter—and then went to work after she and my grandfather had married, and her daughter had been born, she went to work as a secretary. And worked her way up to become vice-president of a bank, the same bank where she started as a secretary, and ended up being the financial rock for our entire family.
I’m here because of a mother, who for most of her life was a single mom, and yet was able to put herself through school and get a Ph.D. and end up specializing in women’s development and starting micro-enterprises for women in Africa and Asia and all around the world. And still somehow added, had the time and capacity to fill up her children with love and affection.
I’m here because of my wife, who as many of you know, is smarter, and tougher and better-looking than I am [laughter]. And many people ask why she shouldn’t be the Obama running for President and I explain that she’s too smart to want to run for president. She’d rather tell the president what to do. [laughter]
But most of all I’m here as a candidate because there are these two little girls that I try to tuck in every night—it’s harder during the campaign season—whose futures depend upon us creating a more equal society.
I want my daughters to grow up in an America where they have the exact same opportunities as America’s sons. I want Sasha and Melia to dream without limit. To achieve without constraint. To be absolutely free to seek their own happiness.
At this crossroad, we need to talk about what America might be—an America of equality and opportunity for our daughters. We need to talk about what Justice Ginsberg called, “A woman’s ability to realize her potential.” Because when we argue big, we win.
I am convinced of that.
I am convinced that Republicans and Democrats and Independents, Blue-state voters and Red-state voters, they want a fair shake for their daughters.
In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America gave its first Margaret Sanger Award to Martin Luther King, Jr. And in his acceptance speech, which was delivered by his strong and wonderful wife Coretta, Dr. King wrote, “Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by non-violent, direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her.”
That struggle for equality is not over and now we are at one of those rare moments where we can actually transform our politics in a fundamental way. But it’s going to take people as resolute as Mrs. Sanger and Dr. King—people like your own Cecile Richards—it’s going to take young people like Ariana. It’s going to take millions of voices coming together to insist that it’s not enough just to stand still. That it’s not enough to safeguard the gains of the past—that it is time to be resolute and time to march forward.
I am absolutely convinced that we stand on the brink of that kind of achievement. And if we succeed in raising the awareness all across America that what is good for our daughters is also good for our sons. That when we expand opportunity for some, we expand opportunity for the many.
When we have achieved as one voice a strong call for that kind of more fair and more just America, then I am absolutely convinced that we’re not just going to win an election but more importantly we’re going to transform this nation.
Thank you [applause] very much, appreciate you guys, thank you.
Thank you. Thank you guys. Thank you, Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thank you guys, you’re very gracious, thank you.
Thank you very much, alright I think we have a couple of questions.
Cecile Richards: We do have a couple of questions, thank you Senator Obama. Thanks for being here with Planned Parenthood today. We have three folks from the audience that are going to ask questions and I think we’re starting with Brian Howard who is our CEO from the great state of Arizona. Brian?
Brian Howard: Senator Obama, thank you for being here today.
Senator Obama: Thank you, Brian.
Brian Howard: Um, you know that rights and access and rights and ability have to go hand in hand. Um, and we know that health care reform is an important part of your agenda. Could you talk—and give us some specifics about how reproductive health care and women’s health care is going to fit into and be a part of primary care for women in your health care reform plans and how Planned Parenthood, as a safety net provider, will continue to be a part of the health care safety net for women and families across the country.
Senator Obama: Well, look, in my mind reproductive care is essential care, basic care so it is at the center, the heart of the plan that I propose. For those of you that are interested in the details, not plugging my website, [laughter] feel free to go to BarackObama.com.
But, essentially, what we are doing is to say that we’re going to set up a public plan that all persons and all women can access if they don’t have health insurance. It’ll be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services, as well as mental health services and disease management services. [scattered applause]
Because part of our interest is to make sure that we put more an more money into preventative care. And so many of women’s diseases are preventable if they’re getting access to regular care. So we subsidize women who don’t have health insurance or can’t afford health insurance at affordable low group rates. We also subsidize those who prefer to stay in the private insurance market except that insurers are going to have to abide by the same rules in terms of providing comprehensive care, including reproductive care and mental health, mental care services and they won’t be able to keep people out as a consequence of pre-existing conditions. So that’s going to be absolutely vital. [Applause]
Now, I know I’m limited on time but I just want to expand on that second part of your question which is role that organizations like Planned Parenthood play. Obviously, my hope under a universal health care system is that everybody’s got access to basic care and we have less of a patchwork quilt of services. That—I still believe that it is important for organizations like Planned Parenthood to be part of that system. Because, many young women, for example, may be much more comfortable when they are in college or universities or other places, going to Planned Parenthood clinics and services to get contraception, for example. So, my hope is that we still have non-profit participation under my plan.
But, in the meantime, what I’ve said is that I believe we can have universal health care in this country by the end of the next president’s first term. By the end of my first term as president [applause] of the United States of America. But that’s five years away and in the interim there are just some basic things we can do. The notion that since the Deficit Reduction Act that we have seen Congress essentially make it much more difficult by drastically increasing prices for women to have access to the basic services they need, make absolutely no sense. And that’s the something we can change right here and right now in Congress. And that’s something I’m going to be fighting, fighting to make sure happens. [Applause.]
Cecile Richards: Sir, we have a lot of political organizers here today so the next question is going to come from Dessa Cosma (spelling?) from Michigan. One of our political organizers from the great state of Michigan.
Dessa Cosma: Thank you for being such as inspiration as a community organizer, by the way.
Barack Obama: Thank you.
Dessa Cosma: I’ve really learned a lot from you. I want to ask you right now about
[Barack Obama opens his mouth to say something] Supreme Court nominations?
Barack Obama: I thought you were going to ask me about how community organizers could get paid a decent wage. [Laughter]
Dessa Cosma: They take care of me. [Laughter] They do that.
Barack Obama: No, I remember, I remember folks asking me when I was organizing, saying, “You know, if you’re so smart, how come I always see you in the same clothes everyday? How come you got that beat up ol’ car?” I said, well, anyway, I’m sorry. [laughter] I’m sure, I’m sure benefits have improved.
Dessa Cosma: They do great. They do great with Planned Parenthood.
Barack Obama: Yeah. Okay.
Dessa Cosma: Um, as you were talking about earlier, the recent Bush Supreme Court’s decision really took away critically important decisions from women and put them in the hands of politicians. And as a result of this, we’re expecting, and have already seen, so much anti-choice legislation at the state level. Um, what would you do at the federal level not only to ensure access to abortion but to make sure that the judicial nominees that you will inevitably be able to pick are true to the core tenets of Roe v. Wade?
Barack Obama: Well, the first thing I’d do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. [Applause.] That’s the first thing that I’d do. Um, but the, okay, but, but your question about the federal courts is absolutely on target. I taught Constitutional Law for ten years and I have to say after reading this latest decision and the series of decisions that the Supreme Court has been putting forward that I find it baffling.
Because sometimes they are striking down acts of Congress like the Violence Against Women’s Act showing very little deference to Congressional decision making and that somehow when it comes to a piece of legislation that is not taking into account clear doctrine that the Supreme Court has laid out, they say, “Oh, that’s fine. Congress can make those decisions.” There is an inconsistency and I believe a hypocrisy in terms of how we see many of these decisions issued.
That’s why I think it’s important for us obviously to get not only a Democratic White House as well as a stronger Congress to protect these rights. But I also think it’s important to understand that there’s nothing wrong in voting against nominees who don’t appear to share a broader vision of what the Constitution is about.
I think the Constitution can be interpreted in so many ways. And one way is a cramped and narrow way in which the Constitution and the courts essentially become the rubber stamps of the powerful in society. And then there’s another vision of the court [sic] that says that the courts are the refuge of the powerless. Because oftentimes they can lose in the democratic back and forth. They may be locked out and prevented from fully participating in the democratic process. That’s one of the reasons I opposed Alito, you know, as well as Justice Roberts. When Roberts came up and everybody was saying, “You know, he’s very smart and he’s seems a very decent man and he loves his wife. [Laughter] You know, he’s good to his dog. [laughter] He’s so well qualified.”
I said, well look, that’s absolutely true and in most Supreme Court decis--, in the overwhelming number of Supreme Court decisions, that’s enough. Good intellect, you read the statute, you look at the case law and most of the time, the law’s pretty clear. Ninety-five percent of the time. Justice Ginsberg, Justice Thomas, Justice Scalia they’re all gonna agree on the outcome.
But it’s those five percent of the cases that really count. And in those five percent of the cases, what you’ve got to look at is—what is in the justice’s heart. What’s their broader vision of what America should be. Justice Roberts said he saw himself just as an umpire but the issues that come before the Court are not sport, they’re life and death. And we need somebody who’s got the heart—the empathy—to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old—and that’s the criteria by which I’ll be selecting my judges. Alright?
Cecile Richards: Okay, so now for the last one is the teens. We talked a lot about teens and with—basically the loss of sex education in this country. Planned Parenthood Peer Educators have become like the Underground Railroad of Sex Education [laughter]. They’re the front lines giving kids information they can’t get anywhere else. So the question is from Melissa Carrera from Anacostia who is a Peer Educator [garbled].
Melissa Carrera: Buenas tardes. My name is Melissa Carrera and I’m seventeen and I’ve been a Peer Educator with Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington for two years. Um, getting real sex education for my generation is not only about preventing teen pregnancy but also reducing the rates and sexually transmitted infections and HIV AIDS. With the AIDS rate in Washington being ten times the national average, what would you do to make sure that schools and programs like mine to treat, are encouraged to teach, sorry, medically accurate, age appropriate and responsible sex education.
Barack Obama: Well, first of all, I want to congratulate you for your participation and your leadership. Um, and we [applause], you, young people like you are making an enormous difference all across the country.
Step number one, I am an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act which will provide money for comprehensive and medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education in the schools.
Now keep in mind that we’ve been in this fight, Pam and I, back in Illinois when I was the chairman of the Health Care Committee, helped to push through legislation. And I remember Alan Keyes, I ran against Alan Keyes [laughter] I don’t know if you guys remember Alan Keyes. But I remember him using this in a, his campaign against me saying, [mimicking Alan Keyes] “Barack Obama supports teaching sex education to kindergartners.” [Laughter] And, which I didn’t know what to tell him.
But it’s the right thing to do, you know, to provide age-appropriate sex education, science-based sex education in the schools. You, as a peer, can have enormous power over your age cohort but you got to have some support from the schools. You certainly should have to be fighting every instance by providing accurate information outside the classroom because inside the classroom the only thing that can be talked about is abstinence. Yeah, that is sending a mixed message [applause].
Eh, eh, and yeah, keep in mind, look, I honor and respect teenagers who choose to delay sexual activity. I’ve got two daughters and I want them to understand that sex is not something casual and that’s something I think we want to communicate and should be part of any curriculum. But we also know that when the statistics tell us that nearly half of 15 to 19 year olds are engaging in sexual activity that for us to leave them in ignorance is potentially consigning them to illness, pregnancy, poverty and in some cases death and that’s absolutely unacceptable.
So, some of this is legislative but some of this also having a president who’s willing to talk about these issues in an honest and reasonable way. [Applause] And, um, you know, the longer I’m in this race for the presidency the more I realize that so much of leadership is about using the bully pulpit to frame the issues in a way that allows us to draw on the best impulses of the American people.
And the one thing that I want to insist on is that, as I travel around the country, the American people are a decent people and they get confused sometimes. They listen to the wrong talk-radio shows [laughter], watch the wrong T.V. networks [laughter], but, but they’re basically decent, they’re basically sound, they’re making decisions trying to figure out what’s best for our children. And that is something that I think spans parties and we just have to make sure that the, the, bitter ideological debates that are taking place here in Washington are not mistaken for how the American people think. In fact, they are fed up with it, they are tired of it and they want to give young people like you, who are showing leadership and wisdom and are trying to sort yourselves, sort you ways through a sometimes difficult and confusing world, they want to give you the best possible chance and that’s what I want to encourage as President of the United States.
Thank you very much everybody.