President Obama offered a defiant defense of government funding for Planned Parenthood Friday and urged the group's members to help his administration sign up more women for benefits under his besieged health-care law.
The first sitting president to address Planned Parenthood, Mr. Obama accused conservative politicians of trying to "roll back the clock" on abortion rights and health-care services for women.
"They've been involved in an orchestrated and historic effort to roll back basic rights when it comes to women's health," Mr. Obama told the group's annual convention in Washington. "When politicians try to turn Planned Parenthood into a punching bag, they're not just talking about you, they're talking about the millions of women who you serve. And when they talk about cutting off your funding, let's be clear, they're talking about telling many of those women, 'You're own your own.' "
The president's address was delayed for a day. He was initially scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the group's gala Thursday night, but postponed it to attend a memorial service in West, Texas, for victims of a deadly fertilizer plant explosion.
"We've gone through a pretty tough week and a half, and I was down in Texas letting the people in West, Texas, know that we all love them and care about them in their time of grieving," Mr. Obama said.
His address to Planned Parenthood came in the midst of a trial in Philadelphia involving an abortionist accused of murder and other charges for performing illegal late-term abortions. While Mr. Obama said in an interview last week he was following the case, he didn't mention it at the Planned Parenthood meeting.
Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said Mr. Obama should have reproached Planned Parenthood officials for not doing more to stop the alleged violations at the clinic of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Planned Parenthood officials in Philadelphia said they encouraged patients who complained to them about the clinic to report it to state authorities.
"President Obama blatantly ignored this inconvenient truth about the abortion industry's horrific lack of oversight, and disparaged the pro-life advocates who wake up each morning with the goal of saving the lives of unborn children and women from the pain of abortion," Ms. Dannenfelser said in a statement.
Instead, the president decried efforts across the country to limit women's access to abortion services.
"After decades of progress, there are still those who want to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than to the 21st century," Mr. Obama said. "Forty-two states have introduced laws that would ban or severely limit access to a woman's right to choose — laws that would make it harder for women to get the contraceptive care they need. Laws that would cut off access to cancer screenings and end educational programs that help prevent teen pregnancy."
He added, "You want to check the calendar, you want to make sure it's still 2013."
The president singled out a new law in North Dakota, which bans most abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy.
"A woman may not even know that she's pregnant at six weeks," Mr. Obama said.
With implementation of his signature health-care law under fire from lawmakers in his own party, the president devoted a good portion of his address to urging Planned Parenthood members to sign up their patients for benefits under the law's health-insurance exchanges. Some top Democrats are angry at Mr. Obama's decision to take money from public-health prevention programs and use it to publicize the new law, which mandates insurance marketplaces in every state.
"I'm here to also ask for your help, because we need to get the word out," Mr. Obama said. "We need you to tell your patients, your friends, your neighbors, your family members what the health-care law means for them. Make sure that they know that there are plans out there right now that cover the costs of contraception and preventive care free-of-charge."
The president said Planned Parenthood should particularly approach young women, saying they're most likely to benefit from the new law.
"We need all the women who come through your doors telling their children, their husbands and their folks in their neighborhoods about their health-care options," he said. "We need all college students who come through your doors to call up their friends and post on Facebook talking about the protections and benefits that are kicking in."
After resisting Republican lawmakers' effort to defund the group in recent budget fights, Mr. Obama said Planned Parenthood would always have him as an ally.
"If there's one thing the past few years have shown it's that Planned Parenthood is not going anywhere," he said. "It's not going anywhere today, it's not going anywhere tomorrow. As long as we've got a fight to make sure women have access to quality, affordable health care and as long as we've got to fight to protect a women's right to make her own choices about her own health, I want you to know that you've also got a president who's going to be right there with you fighting every step of the way."
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