Remarks at Planned Parenthood Federation of America Awards Gala

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Houston, Texas
March 27, 2009

I want to salute and thank my dear friend, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee. (Applause.) She is a warrior, someone who when she’s on your side you feel like you’re surrounded by a legion of likeminded, true, hardworking, committed warriors who care about what’s at stake for our country. And I am so grateful to her. She and I worked together for many years on a number of issues, but one will come to fruition next month when finally a woman of color takes her place among the statuaries in the Congress when Sojourner Truth is finally given a place of honor in the Capitol. (Applause.)

Also somewhere in this crowd are Congressman Al Green and Congressman Gene Green, the Green team, from the 9th and the 29th districts, and also Houston’s superb mayor, Mayor Bill White, is with us. (Applause.) You know, they had to invent a new category for Mayor White when, as a Democrat, he started getting approval ratings in the high 80s. (Laughter.) But the best politics usually flows from the best policies and the best leadership, and he’s provided both. (Applause.)

I also want to thank my dear friend as well, America Ferrera, a wonderful, talented young woman of such great grace. And Kelly Willis, you have a new fan. I told Cecile I love your music, and she promised to send me a CD. So I thank you for being part of this.

Now, I have to tell you that it was a great privilege when I was told that I would receive this award. I admire Margaret Sanger enormously, her courage, her tenacity, her vision. Another of my great friends, Ellen Chesler, is here, who wrote a magnificent biography of Margaret Sanger called Woman of Valor. And when I think about what she did all those years ago in Brooklyn, taking on archetypes, taking on attitudes and accusations flowing from all directions, I am really in awe of her.

And there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from her life and from the cause she launched and fought for and sacrificed so bravely. One in particular, though, has always stood out for me almost a hundred years later. It’s the lesson that women’s empowerment is always, always about more than bettering the lives of individual women. It is part of a movement. It’s about economic and political progress for all women and girls. It’s about making sure that every woman and girl everywhere has the opportunities that she deserves to fulfill her potential, a potential as a mother, as a worker, as a human being.

The overarching mission of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the cause of reproductive freedom that you continue to advance today is as relevant in our world now as it was a hundred years ago. (Applause.) So I thank you.

The 20th century reproductive rights movement, really embodied in the life and leadership of Margaret Sanger, was one of the most transformational in the entire history of the human race. It has changed the lives of tens of millions of women. It has changed attitudes and perceptions about women and our roles in society. It ushered in demographic and social changes that have brought us closer to gender equality than at any time.

Yet we know that Margaret Sanger’s work here in the United States and certainly across our globe is not done. Here at home, there are still too many women who are denied their rights because of income, because of opposition, because of attitudes that they harbor. But around the world, too many women are denied even the opportunity to know about how to plan and space their families. They’re denied the power to do anything about the most intimate of decisions.

And the derivative inequities that result from all of that are evident in the fact that women and girls are still the majority of the world’s poor, unschooled, unhealthy, and underfed. This is and has been for many years a matter of personal and professional importance to me, and I want to assure you that reproductive rights and the umbrella issue of women’s rights and empowerment will be a key to the foreign policy of this Administration. (Applause.)

You see, I believe that women’s rights and empowerment is an indispensible ingredient of smart power and therefore is integrated into our renewed emphasis on diplomacy and development. This is especially important today, when poverty and the lack of healthcare and education, hunger and job loss, are amplified by the current economic crisis. And I was very proud when President Obama repealed the Mexico City policy. (Applause.)

As a result, nongovernmental organizations overseas can once again use U.S. funding to provide the full range of family planning services so that women and their families can get access to the healthcare that they need. President Obama’s decision on Mexico City and his signing shortly thereafter of the Lilly Ledbetter legislation – (applause) – reflects a deep personal commitment to expanding opportunities for women. And the announcement about a week ago of the establishment once again of an Office for Women and Girls in the White House will give voice and action behind that commitment. (Applause.)

I am also pleased to tell you that we announced that the United States will once again fund family planning through the United Nations. (Applause.) We are going to fund a contribution of $50 million this fiscal year. That’s a 130 percent increase over our last contribution, which was made in 2001. Congress has also approved the Administration’s request for $545 million in bilateral assistance for family planning and reproductive health programs this year. And this is a significant increase over last year. Because I and the Administration and not wavering in our commitments to development assistance even in these tough economic times. (Applause.)

Now, some might ask, well, we’ve got problems here at home – and we sure do. Unemployment is rising. People are losing not only jobs but their homes. We’re seeing small businesses that were flourishing a few years ago shut their doors. And yet it’s important to remember that what we do to advance and protect our security, our interests, and our values overseas really does affect what our future will be like right here in Houston and across America. Because at root, the complex global issues we face speak to the importance of human security and material well-being, and the necessity of ensuring that opportunities for those on the margins of life and society, particularly women and children, are essential for the United States to continue to promote.

Earlier this morning, and one of the reasons why I was so late getting to my first event, which was up in Dallas at the Women’s Museum, and then to come down here to Houston, is because I was at the White House with the President and our national security team announcing the results of our strategic review about Afghanistan and Pakistan. And as we went through this review over the last two months, one of the points that I and others made is that as we integrate our military and civilian aspects with a mission of disrupting and dismantling and defeating al-Qaida and their allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we cannot lose sight of the fact that assisting women’s development in those two countries is part of America’s strategy to be successful in our mission. (Applause.)

A society that denies and demeans women’s roles and rights is a society that is more likely to engage in behavior that is negative, anti-democratic, and which often leads to violence and extremism. So the material building blocks of daily life are the most reliable aspects of building democracy, delivering on economic opportunity and adequate food supplies and clean water and a clean environment, and we know that access to family planning broadens the horizons and expands the vision of women everywhere. (Applause.)

It is important for us to remain committed here at home and around the world. When more than half a million women die every year in childbirth and we know that the majority of those deaths could be prevented, then we are missing an opportunity, not only for humanitarian assistance but to build a strong foundation for democratic and positive decision making by people whose lives are freer from the kind of struggle and strife and loss that too many women suffer.

Nearly half the women in the developing world deliver their babies without a nurse, a midwife, or a doctor. Fifteen million women around the world have complications while giving birth and during labor that result in lifelong disabilities and serious illnesses. And children who grow up without mothers or have mothers who cannot properly care for their children are likely to suffer health problems of their own.

As I have traveled around the world over many years now, I see the results of social and economic costs in marginalizing women and denying them their freedom. And I know that there is a corollary to that denial. It is political destabilization. Because when people live in poverty and desperation, they often take desperate action.

Today, we’re learning more about that correlation between economic decline and civil unrest, between economic growth and political stability. There are now models that can accurately predict which countries and regions will experience political upheaval. And one of the most constant predictors is the rate of infant mortality. Countries with higher infant mortality rates are more vulnerable to political upheaval. And it’s easy to understand why infant mortality has such utility in assessing political trends globally. Simply put, infant mortality is connected to a lower quality of life. And a lower quality of life is the by-product of inadequate healthcare, including inadequate family planning options.

The good news is there a flip side. The presence of voluntary family planning programs and support for reproductive rights has tangible benefits. And that is why I strongly support Planned Parenthood, and organizations that are on the front lines around the world. (Applause.)

I’ve seen programs, as many of you have, that really speak to this. Now, the best way to ensure that women are not victimized by coercive government practices is to make sure that they have access to family planning. For those who care so deeply about reducing the abortion rate, the best way to make sure we reduce abortion is to provide access to safe family planning. (Applause.)

I want to close by telling you about two programs that your government supports because they reflect cost-effective and innovative approaches. I was recently in Indonesia, and I had first visited there fifteen years ago. Fifteen years ago, I saw a commitment to family planning taking root in that country, the most populous Muslim country in the world. I saw a program that wasn’t housed in a clinic, it wasn’t even housed in a building. It was under a tree in a village where women met once a week. They brought their babies to be weighed on portable scales to see whether the babies were growing. They received information from trained village workers about nutrition and family planning. And the women there told me what a difference that program had made in their own lives.

Earlier this year, I returned to Indonesia as Secretary of State. It’s a country that in ten short years has moved from tyranny to democracy. And one reason that it’s made this transition is because it has a robust civil society, and because coexisting are democracy, Islam, modernization, and women’s rights. And there is a connection between the commitment to family planning and the secular democracy that Indonesia has become.

So I toured a low-income neighborhood in Jakarta, and I saw water purification system and I also saw a prenatal neighborhood watch, a program supported by USAID. The home of every pregnant woman in this neighborhood had a sticker with her name and her due date on the front door, and this information was readily available in an area where thousands of people lived close upon one another. And there weren’t very many cars or other forms of transportation, but neighbors could walk by and make sure that if it was getting close to the woman’s due date they were ready in case of an emergency. It was an inexpensive and simple way of ensuring the health and well-being of pregnant women. And then health workers would visit to make sure that all was going well until a healthy baby was delivered.

So it often is important to remember what is most basic in any of our lives. The ability to plan a family and to raise healthy children is certainly at the core of that. Ensuring that women have that freedom will be the policy of this Administration. (Applause.) And there isn’t any organization in the world with a reputation for caring so much and doing so much and being so courageous or truly being a valorous organization in the tradition as a woman of valor.

I am honored to be the Secretary of State at a time when our country has so much work to do to restore America’s standing and leadership. But I believe that it’s not only work of governments, of presidents, of secretaries, of others. But it’s really the work of all of us. And one of the great exports that America has are our NGOs, our charitable organizations, and all the volunteers, and the funders who make it possible.

This is a moment of such great peril and promise for America. At the end of the next four years, I hope that we’ll be able to look around the world and see that it is more peaceful, more prosperous, more progressive, and that, in particular, women’s voices will be heard at every place where important decisions are made, and that organizations like Planned Parenthood will be our partners. I know that this is a mission that you’re more than ready to take on. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

Well, thank you so much. It’s great to be back in Houston with so many friends and to have an opportunity to participate in the Planned Parenthood annual meeting. I want to thank several people who are really special, and starting with Cecile Richards, who has done a magnificent job on behalf of Planned Parenthood. (Applause.) And I know that she and her very talented team, including Laurie Rubiner, whom you saw in the video, who’s the vice president for public policy, will make sure that women’s health and women’s reproductive health is included in any deliberation concerning our -- finally adopting -- a healthcare system that takes care of all of our people. (Applause.)

PRN: 2009/T4-2