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Why Obama decided to be the first sitting president to address Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards/Washington Post Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards/Washington Post

On Friday, President Obama will address nearly 1,000 supporters of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, making him the first sitting president to address the group.

Why, at a time when states are adopting new restrictions on abortion and abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is facing criminal charges for conduct at his Philadelphia clinic, is the president speaking to a reproductive rights group?


In few areas does Obama hold as commanding a lead over his opponents than when it comes to reproductive rights, and women's issues more generally.

In October 2012, for example, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found Americans trusted Obama to do a better job than Republicans in making decisions about women’s reproductive health choices and services, by an enormous margin of 51 to 29 percent.

That same month, a  Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 52 percent of likely voters trusted Obama to do a better job addressing women’s issues more broadly, compared to 39 percent who thought his GOP presidential rival Mitt Romney would do more. That difference was most pronounced among women themselves, 55 percent of whom trusted Obama (37 percent of women picked Romney).

And when it comes to abortion, specifically, 53 percent of all Americans approved of Obama's handling of the issue in a January CNN/Time/ORC poll, while 35 percent disapproved. That puts him in far better stead than in 2010, when 40 percent of respondents approved of him on the issue and 47 percent disapproved.

Obama spoke to Planned Parenthood's political arm in 2008, but that was before he occupied the Oval Office.

In a statement this week, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said, “President Obama has done more than any president in history for women’s health and rights."

Marjorie Dannenfeiser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, agrees that Obama is one of Planned Parenthood's closest allies.

"There is no industry that President Obama is more willing to protect than the abortion industry and particularly Planned Parenthood, the nation's biggest abortion provider, which in a single year performed more than 333,000 abortions," she said in a statement. "The president has defended federal funding for Planned Parenthood to the point of being willing to shut down the government over the continuing resolution battle, and in return they spent a record amount to reelect him in November."

Earlier this week, Dannenfeiser's group touted the news that Obama would not be speaking at Planned Parenthood's gala Thursday night, as he was originally scheduled to do. But its celebration was short-lived. The president had postponed his remarks because he was traveling to Texas for the George W. Bush Library dedication and a memorial service for victims of the explosion in West, Tex. He would still address Planned Parenthood's conference on Friday, once he returned.

Capital Insight survey research analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.



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