Cecile Richards, women’s advocates urge voters to choose Tester for U.S. Senate

T’neal Filesteel, second from left, discusses the representation of Native American women in politics during a panel discussion and rally  endorsing Sen. Jon Tester in Missoula on Thursday night. Also pictured from left to right are Nancy Keenan, Katy Lindberg, Stacie Anderson and Cecile Richards. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

From health care to the wage gap, a panel of women including former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards spoke about what’s at stake for women in the midterm elections during a presentation in Missoula Thursday night.

All endorsed Montana Sen. Jon Tester for re-election.

“He’s been a fabulous senator for you all,” Richards said. “I see him as your neighbor and as a farmer and as a Montanan, and I see him, frankly, as a national champion for health care and women’s rights. He not only represents you, but he represents a lot of other folks who need a say in Washington.”

The panel included Ward 5 City Council member Stacie Anderson, University of Montana student and co-president for the University of Montana College Democrats Katy Lindberg and T’neal Filesteel, an organizer for Tester’s campaign for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.

The event was moderated by Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.

Each had a unique perspective on women’s rights, with the Affordable Care Act as a major topic of discussion.

Richards talked about fixing the act rather than abolishing it. Since the act passed, Richards said, women no longer have to pay more for health insurance – and preventative screenings and medications, such as contraceptives, are covered.

The United States has seen the number of teenage pregnancies drop to its lowest point, Richards said.

“And of course, one of the most important things that we know has been a topic of much conversation, including here in Montana, is finally you couldn’t be denied health insurance coverage because you had breast cancer, or you’d been pregnant or had a Cesarean section. All the reasons people, and oftentimes women, were denied health care coverage,” Richards said. “As we’d say before the Affordable Care Act, being a woman was a pre-existing condition.”

Anderson pointed out the importance of women running for office, and noted that prior to 2016, about 900 women reached out to Emily’s List, an organization focused on electing Democratic women to office.

After President Donald Trump was elected, more than 35,000 women reached out to the organization, Anderson said.

“We have a record number of women running for all levels of government – federal, state, local,” she said. “Here in Montana, we had a record number of women file to run for the Legislature this cycle. In the primary, every single one of the women on the ballot for the legislative race won their primary.”

Filesteel worked as a deputy prosecutor for the Fort Belknap tribal government before committing her time to Tester’s campaign. She explained that many Native women who were sexually assaulted would never testify in court, and expressed the importance of Native women’s representation in politics.

“Native women are taking ownership of these circumstances and understanding that no one is going to save us,” she said. “We need to do it ourselves. We need to be in leadership. We need to be represented in Congress and in the Senate at the state level, on the tribal level, at the county level. At every level, Native women need to be represented.”

The panel continued to talk about education accessibility, the wage gap between men and women, and maternity and prenatal coverage.

With so much to say on these topics, one thing was clear to all of the panelists: Tester supports women.

In response to a question about how to maintain women’s access to health care and clinics, Richards immediately responded.

“Re-elect Jon Tester,” she said. “It’s so important. As you may have seen on national television, there are men and some women in the United States Senate who do not care about women’s stories and women’s lives and women’s rights, and a lot of them are serving in Washington D.C.”

Tester has voted to protect the Affordable Care Act, ending gender rating for women, ensuring that women receive preventative health care and exams without a copay, and guaranteeing that millions receive health care even with pre-existing conditions, Richards said.

His opponent, Republican candidate Matt Rosendale, could take that all away, she said.

“Jon Tester understands that everyone needs access to affordable health care, and women have particular needs for affordable health care,” Richards told the Missoula Current. “He has been a champion ever since he came to Congress. So, as I say, he represents the women in Montana so well that he represents women everywhere.”