While the rest of New York was nursing its post-Met Gala headaches, Hillary Clinton was off to a busy day Tuesday: First, she spoke at the Women for Women International event on Park Ave, delivering a fiery take that she could have won the election had it occurred October 27, prior to FBI director James Comey’s letter reopening the investigation into her use of a private email server.
“The reason I believe we lost were the intervening events in the last 10 days,” she said, referring to both Comey’s letter and interference from Russia, before an audience that included actresses Meryl Streep and Sophie Turner. Then, Clinton made her way downtown to Pier 36 for Planned Parenthood’s 100th anniversary gala, where she was honored alongside television showrunner Shonda Rhimes with the organization’s Champion of the Century and Champion for Change awards. The evening was at once triumphant—celebrating a century of an organization supporting reproductive health and family planning—and reserved, coming just after a near-miss budget proposal that would have defunded the organization. (Though as of Sunday it appeared Planned Parenthood would maintain funding in the most recent iteration of the government spending bill, it will come under review again in September.)
Planned Parenthood supporters and Clinton fans—and a Venn diagram of the two—began to roll in just before 7 p.m. Actress and activist America Ferrera, who appeared alongside Lena Dunham at the Democratic National Convention last summer in support of Hillary Clinton, then the party’s nominee, stepped onto the carpet brandishing one of those ubiquitous Edie Parker clutches—only hers read PP100, rather than the usual monogram or precious slogan.
“I had not been taught about Planned Parenthood,” Ferrera recalled. As a teenager, the organization emerged onto her radar because her friends started seeking out answers about their own reproductive health in high school—“I’ve had so many friends who went through periods of their life where Planned Parenthood was the only source of healthcare that they had—especially through college,” she said. “There were definitely moments that arose for me when I needed them and they were there.”
The musician Halsey, who had just arrived before Ferrera, shared her own Planned Parenthood story later in the night, closing the dinner program by describing her struggle with endometriosis while touring the world. It came to a head with a sudden miscarriage on stage in Chicago, she said, that brought her to Planned Parenthood.
Behind them followed Scarlett Johansson arm-in-arm with her sister Vanessa, Annette Bening, and Julianne Moore—“You are a very good sport,” one member of her team murmured appreciatively when she reached the end of the step-and-repeat and the last of the flashbulbs burst. And while there were whispers that Streep would be taking the back entrance, her daughter Grace Gummer, who had also attended Women for Women earlier in the day, was still pondering Clinton’s earlier words as she made her way down the carpet.
“When you’re in the room you’re just like, of course. When you read it, you’re like, Oh,” she said, recalling Clinton’s decisive words. “But when you’re in the room, you’re like, fuckin’ duh. Of course you would have.”
Growing up, she recalled being educated about the many benefits of birth control, and she added that she’s been donating to Planned Parenthood for years—but Tuesday night’s gala was her first time attending one of the organization’s events. “The fact that it’s even an issue or that it should not receive federal funding, that’s the problem to me,” she said. “The election made me more alive and awake to it, and I think it did to a lot of people. In that way, not that it was a good thing, but the silver lining is now a lot more people are involved.”
Inside, guests—including one woman in one of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirts for Dior—nourished themselves with toxic masculinity (a pink-tinged vodka-based drink with strawberry purée) and mingled. In the bathroom, there were mints, hair pins, lube, and condoms. Just the essentials. On the wall, a massive, stylized mural of an anatomical diagram of women’s reproductive organs was splashed across the wall for passing selfie-ers, including activist and performer Sarah Sophie Flicker.
Flicker, one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, demonstrated on behalf of Planned Parenthood in the ’90s and “definitely visited a few as a teenager,” she said. In the intervening two decades, “I definitely understand more how important control over reproductive health is and I understand that the choice to have or not have a child is the most important, not only emotional decision but financial decision a woman will ever make and truly, we can’t have equality until we have reproductive justice,” she added. (Reproductive justice, she clarified, includes not just abortion access, but also prenatal care, access to contraception, education and “ensuring mothers can raise their children without the threat of violence or poverty,” and paid family leave. “It’s all connected,” she said.)
Upon entry, director Sofia Coppola made a beeline for the bar, flanked by two friends. When she had left home earlier that night, she had tried to explain Planned Parenthood’s work to her two daughters, ages six and 10. Coppola recalled, when she was a child herself, hearing from her mother, the documentarian and artist Eleanor Coppola, now 80, about “how many rights we have now that they didn’t have,” and how access has improved. And while Coppola didn’t delve into the details of Planned Parenthood’s work earlier in the night, her girls were thrilled to hear Hillary Clinton would be in attendance.
“They asked for her autograph,” she said, smiling. “I was like, I don’t know if I can do that, but…”
“Having kids makes me a better activist. It makes me fight harder,” Flicker said. As a mother of two sons and a daughter, she noted the importance of “engaging boys and men in these conversations. Reproductive care affects families; it affects kids; it affects our abilities to be good parents,” she added. “They should care as much about all this stuff as women should.”
The musicians Tegan and Sara Quinn were among the first to arrive in a wave of guests entering the converted sports center. “When we were nine years old, our mom dragged us along to a reproductive health, basically a pro-choice rally, in Calgary, Alberta,” Tegan said. “It was terrifying and traumatizing because it was a lot of people yelling really horrible things at us, but it really opened our minds to activism when we were really young.”
“When we come down to the States, things often feel a lot more conservative,” Sara added. The twins had spent the afternoon meeting with one of the national education coordinators for Planned Parenthood, discussing the varied services the organization offers. “The idea that Planned Parenthood is such a targeted establishment even though it provides such a diverse number of programs and services like, it never made sense to me,” she added. “It’s just not as controversial to provide that healthcare or reproductive education in Canada, so it has always really been stark, the different of how we grew up and how it is in the United States.”
Shortly before 8 p.m., the dinner bell summoned and, drinks in hand, guests began the slow shuffle into the dining room. Rhimes, Clinton, designer Diane Von Furstenberg, and comedian Chelsea Handler took seats of honor at the center of the room, Handler kicking off the program with a wry remark that President Donald Trump’s erratic behavior resembled “tertiary symptoms of long-term, undiagnosed syphilis,” she said. “Google it.”
Streep introduced Shonda Rhimes, the brains behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Private Practice, and The Catch, in suitably grand fashion: “Shonda Rhimes has changed how television looks at women,” she said, citing Scandal protagonist Olivia Pope’s and Grey’s Anatomy surgeon Cristina Yang’s on-screen abortions, as well as the myriad powerful women who populate Rhimes’s series (think Viola Davis’s firebrand lawyer Annalise Keating, or Ellen Pompeo’s 13 seasons fronting Grey’s Anatomy as Meredith Grey). Rhimes herself, waving shyly as she stepped onto the stage, compared her imagined worlds on screen to the actual world she found herself confronted with: “It’s not my goal to show you how the world works,” she said. “It’s my goal to show you how the world works when women run things.” This, naturally, greeted by a roar of cheers.
November’s election sparked significant conversation about the role of celebrity in electing officials to public office; some have voted for Tom Hanks, while others for George Clooney. You couldn’t help but think, as Rhimes, laughing, called herself “literally almost exactly like Serena Williams”—that is, a champion—that she would make a pretty good leader of the free world.
Just before 10 p.m., following a lively auction featuring works by artists (and gala attendees) like Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons, Cecile Richards took to the stage to introduce the main event—Hillary Clinton. “Alternate reality. Imagine Trump even standing behind a Planned Parenthood podium,” Sarah Sophie Flicker wrote on her Instagram stories, captioning a video of Clinton’s speech. (Try it. It’s tough.)
“It remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” Clinton said, explaining the need to constantly renew the defense of Planned Parenthood and the importance of remaining vigilant. Riffing on similar themes as her recent speech at The Center’s benefit dinner, Clinton reflected on her long walks in the woods (“far healthier than screaming at your television set,” she said) and explained the challenges confronting women’s access to reproductive healthcare, education, and family planning not just in the United States, but around the world, where in some regions, forced abortions are as much a risk as restricted access to abortions. She also noted that, thanks in part to Planned Parenthood and in spite of conservative fears to the contrary, teen pregnancy and abortion is at a 40-year low. All this is to say, Planned Parenthood lends agency above all to its patients—it’s not called the right to choose for nothing.
Clinton also, as many commentators have done in the week since it premiered, noted the urgency of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Hulu series adapted from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel (which, she added, she was “captivated by years ago”). “This show has prompted important conversation about women’s rights and autonomy,” she explained, cautioning against complacency. “We have let the other side, politically motivated, own this argument for too long. Where are they on supporting policies like a living wage, like equal pay, like affordable childcare, affordable healthcare, paid leave?”
“Politicians in Washington are still doing everything they can to roll back the rights and progress we have fought so hard for over the past century,” she said, distancing herself from the capital and citing a meme that drew a parallel between a group of male politicians making decisions over healthcare coverage during pregnancy with dogs making decisions over cats’ healthcare. (“So on point,” she said.) “Just this week, we learned that this administration wants to appoint someone to lead our nation’s family planning program that doesn’t believe in birth control, and while we narrowly averted a disaster with the budget, we can’t for one second think that this fight is over.”
“Progress is never fully won,” she said in summation. “It has to be renewed generation after generation.”
Meet the women who made history with the Women's March on Washington: