One big topic — and, in fact, one that largely defined the campaign trail last year — was conspicuously absent from the 2016 State of the Union address. President Obama failed to even mention reproductive healthcare or, correspondingly, Planned Parenthood. This marked absence of what has been one of the most contentious topics in all political arenas during the biggest night in politics is a disappointment and a disgrace.
By not mentioning such a huge talking point, women are largely left out of the discussion. This is particularly dangerous given the climate women have had to endure since reproductive rights came under intense, unjust political scrutiny last year. Since then, it seems that no other politician can stop talking about the topic, whether they are defending or defaming it.
And though women's health clinics have been the subject of distrust and violence since their inception, they were delivered a significant blow last fall when videos were released depicting Planned Parenthood employees supposedly discussing the selling of "baby parts." Though these videos, which were released by an anti-abortion group, have been debunked as heavily edited and highly misleading, a woman's right to an abortion (as well as her right to services like STD testing and cancer screenings) has come under political fire, in a witch hunt largely led by the GOP.
This crusade to bring down the supposed big bad abortion complex has had devastating effects. Congress has voted to defund $450 million in federal assistance for Planned Parenthood eight times in the last year, most recently last week. A massacre was carried out in one of their clinics last November. And as of October, six states had slashed their funding for the organization. Because of this, women are at times forced to travel hundreds of miles for testing and procedures they could have once received near their homes.
The most recent defunding bill will be presented to the president's desk, but for its part, the Obama administration has vowed to veto any bill that seeks to defund Planned Parenthood. But what does it say when, on the largest political stage, Obama says nothing?
This silence speaks loudly. To leave reproductive rights out of the conversation is to, by and large, tell women that their issues matter less. This is especially pertinent considering how women's rights have been one of the largest points of contention in this election season.
Often, the State of the Union address is a call from the president for bipartisan action. But with only a year left, Obama can only get so far trying to sway an often-immobile Congress. Therefore, his speech Tuesday evening should have aimed to educate the public, not Congress, on women's healthcare. It should be more than just a platform for congressional wishes.
Instead, it will now be up to the public to educate themselves, to vote conscientiously, to raise awareness, and to secure the rights of women. It is more than perfectly capable of doing so, and should do so, regardless of whether the president mentioned the issue in his address or not. It is a major disappointment that Obama did not do his part during his speech, but the people can step in and stand up for women's rights all the same.