Thank you all very much for having me. I am so pleased to be here two days after the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that struck a blow for freedom and equality for women. Today Roe is in more jeopardy than ever, and I look forward to working with all of you as we fight to defend it in the coming years. I'm also pleased to be talking to people who are on the front lines of increasing women's access to quality health care and reducing unwanted pregnancy--an issue we should be able to find common ground on with people on the other side of this debate.
We should all be able to agree that we want every child born in this country and around the world to be wanted, cherished, and loved. The best way to get there is do more to educate the public about reproductive health, about how to prevent unsafe and unwanted pregnancies.
My own views of family planning and reproductive rights are heavily influenced by my travels as First Lady. I saw firsthand the costs to women when the government controls their reproductive health decisions.
In pre-democratic Romania, they had a leader named Ceausescu, a Soviet-style Communist dictator, who decided it was the duty of every Romanian woman to bear five children so they could build the Romanian state. So they eliminated birth control, they eliminated sex education, and they outlawed abortions.
Once a month, Romanian women were rounded up at their workplaces. They were taken to a government-controlled health clinic, told to disrobe while they were standing in line. They were then examined by a government doctor with a government secret police officer watching. And if they were pregnant, they were closely monitored to make sure you didn't do anything to that pregnancy.
If a woman failed to conceive, her family was fined a celibacy tax of up to 10 percent of their monthly salary. The terrible result was that many children who were born were immediately abandoned, and left to be raised in government-run orphanages.
Now go to the other side of the world and the opposite side of this debate. In China, local government officials used to monitor women's menstrual cycles and their use of contraceptives because they had the opposite view--no more than one child. If you wanted to have a child in China, you needed to get permission or face punishment. After you had your one allotted child, in some parts of China, you could be sterilized against your will or forced to have an abortion.
I heard President Bush talking about freedom, and yet his administration has acted to deny freedom to women around the world through a global gag policy, which has left many without access to basic reproductive health services.
This decision, which is one of the most fundamental, difficult, and soul-searching decisions a woman and a family can make, is also one in which the government should have no role. I believe we can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women. Often, it's a failure of our system of education, health care, and preventive services. It's often a result of family dynamics. This decision is a profound and complicated one; a difficult one, often the most difficult that a woman will ever make. The fact is that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
As many of you know, I have worked on these issues throughout my career and I continue to work on them in the Senate. One of the most important initiatives I worked on as First Lady and am proud to continue to champion in the Senate is the prevention of teen pregnancy. I worked alongside my husband who launched the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in the mid-1990s. This organization, which has proven to be a tremendous success, was really was born out of my husband's 1995 State of the Union address, which declared teenage pregnancy to be one of the most critical problems facing our country. We set a national goal of reducing unwanted pregnancies by one-third over the decade. We knew, though, that this goal could not be reached with a government-only effort. That's why we invited private sector sponsors to join the board and use their organizations to send a powerful message to teens to be responsible about their futures.
Now back when the National Campaign was getting off the ground, I actually came to New York City and gave a speech before high-profile members of the media-- essentially challenging the media to embrace this issue and use its power to send strong, clear messages to teenagers to be responsible. Back then I used the phrase "teenage celibacy" over and over. Of course, no one talks about "teenage celibacy" anymore, but the message remains relevant and necessary today. I think it's a synonym for abstinence.
The good news is that the National Campaign, which has nourished many new and fruitful partnerships like those with Time Warner and with the faith community, has helped achieve the goal that my husband set in his State of the Union in 1995. Between 1991 and 2003, the teen birth rate fell 32.5 percent to a record low. The National Campaign has also conducted and disseminated some critical research on the important role that parents can play in encouraging their children to abstain from sexual activity.
So I'm very proud of the work of the National Campaign. We'll be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and I will continue working with them to keep the number of unwanted pregnancies among our teenagers falling until we get to zero. But we have a long road ahead.