Planned Parenthood Conference



DECEMBER 4, 1998

Thank you Gloria for that introduction. And thank you, in particular, for your many years of service on this issue. You have always been at the forefront of this battle and your leadership is an important reason why we are where we are today.

I would also like to acknowledge Sharon Allison, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Planned Parenthood and Jane Mitchell, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the St. Louis Region, as well as Alderman Phyllis Young who joins us today.

Almost 26 years ago, the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe V. Wade upheld a woman's right to choose. Today, we can celebrate the fact that that ruling and that right are still intact. And we can thank Planned Parenthood, Gloria Feldt and all of the individuals who have worked so tirelessly for so many years to protect that right.

But as each of you know all too well, this is no time to rest on our efforts. A quarter of a century after the Roe V. Wade decision, we are still having to vigorously defend a woman's right to choose.

Those who oppose abortion have fought for many years to take it away -- they have fought with words and with legal challenges. They have tried to chip away at the foundations that uphold this right -- by withholding information on abortion procedures, by blocking access to clinics, by targeting individual procedures, by intimidating those who provide safe abortions, even, sometimes, resorting to violence and murder.

Let me say a word about the recent acts of violence that have swept our nation. There is no logic that justifies these killings. The American people cannot and will not tolerate these acts of cowardice. In the words of my husband: "We Americans resolve our differences with civilized discussion and spirited debate and elections and constitutional processes not with pipe bombs, hand grenades and instruments of hate."

And all of us know that, embedded in our Constitution and affirmed by the highest court in our land, there is one basic truth which cannot be denied -- and that is every woman's right to decide what is the most difficult and intimate decision she can make -- and that is the choice of whether she will or will not be a mother.

It is not a choice made lightly. Nor should it be. But it is today and should forever be a personal, medical decision that is made by the individual -- not the courts, not the Congress, but the individual.

After more than 25 years of debate, I think most Americans have reached a new level of understanding on this issue -- an understanding that we must support and defend a woman's right to choose while at the same time agreeing that this is a choice we hope women will never have to make. And the best way to make abortion less necessary is through the support and promotion of family planning services. Through family planning we can help fewer women face this decision and raise the quality of life for those babies who are brought into this world.

This Administration understands this and has proven that the best way to reduce the number of abortions performed is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. For the last six years, the Clinton-Gore Administration has steadily increased funding for a wide range of family planning programs.

In the Fiscal Year 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act, the President won an increase of $12 million over 1998 for family planning services and Title Ten Family planning grants. And as many of you know, that increase in the context of the first balanced budget in a generation is a significant victory.

The budget also contained an important policy break-through on reproductive choice. The final bill requires the federal employees health benefits plans to cover contraceptive drugs, covering approximately 1.2 million women of childbearing age. Until now, only 19% of federal health plans covered prescriptive contraceptives and 10% of the plans offered no coverage at all. The Republican Leadership of the Congress tried to remove this measure, but with the help of our pro-choice friends in Congress, we were able to remain firm on this provision.

On international family planning, the Administration fought against the so-called "Mexico City" policy, a provision that would have denied U.S. funds to international family planning organizations that use their own resources to perform abortions or lobby on abortion policy. The Mexico City restrictions were also included in the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act. President Clinton vetoed this legislation because it contained these unacceptable restrictions.

These policies run counter to years of Republican cutbacks on family planning investments -- in 1981 alone, family planning funds were cut by 25%. How can we not invest in education and family planning that teaches the value of abstinence and the risk of unprotected sex? How can we not provide women with counseling and contraception that will prevent unwanted pregnancies?

The facts are clear. Nearly half of all pregnancies in America are unplanned and more than half of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. Between 1987 and 1994, our nation showed a 16% decrease in unintended pregnancies due to increased use of contraceptives. The birth rate for teenagers aged 15-19 has now dropped for six years in a row. Why?

Because of your efforts and the commitment of this Administration to family planning. The result: fewer abortions, fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer children born to parents unwilling orunable to provide for them.

This is a great victory that we can all celebrate. And we can all resolve to spread this message. Because it is important to understand that these policies are a direct result of what we, the people mandate on election day. If we want to maintain our freedom of choice, we must vote our concern. There is perhaps no other issue more directly linked to our say in the polls than this one.

When the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade nearly 26 years ago, the vote was 7 to 2. Twenty years later, that majority had shrunk to 5 to 4. The election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore brought us two Supreme Court appointments. Can you imagine where that majority would stand today if our President were not pro-choice?

And let me say this in closing: President and Mrs. Clinton and my husband, Vice President Gore, join me today in thanking you for all you have done to help preserve freedom of choice for our nation's women. It has not been an easy road -- we know. But we also want you to know that we are with you every step of the way.


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