MANHATTAN—On Tuesday night, more than 1,000 people attended a star-studded gala celebrating Planned Parenthood’s Centennial Anniversary, which honored Hillary Clinton and producer Shonda Rhimes for their work advancing the rights and representation of women’s reproductive freedom.
The gala was held at Pier 36 on South Street in New York, a former storage facility that has since been converted into a seven-court facility called Basketball City, which is a place I would never normally visit. But aside from a scoreboard and white industrial rafters, all traces of sports were covered up by plush white lounge chairs splayed across a dark carpet and two large bars upon which perfectly stacked wine glasses reflected and refracted the soft blue and purple glow from the lights above. Bartenders in white jackets served specialty cocktails called “Toxic Masculinity” made of vodka, strawberry purée, and fresh lemon juice. Hours later, Questlove would DJ and the glitterati would clack their heels on the white-tiled dance floor in the center of the hall.
The event, attended by Planned Parenthood’s top donors, celebrities, politicians, and other notables, seemed like a postscript of Sunday night’s Met Gala, with women’s attire ranging from blazers and T-shirts with feminist statements, to ankle-length sequined skirts, to glittery gowns with long side slits and plunging necklines. Guests included Chelsea Handler, Sofia Coppola, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and America Ferrera, who wore a blazer the color of Planned Parenthood’s logo and, in lieu of a clutch, carried a custom-made box inlayed with PP100.
“I have experiences with Planned Parenthood dating back to my teen years,” she told me, “and I’m here celebrating them because we need them today as much as we’ve ever needed them before and I’m proud to be here standing with them.”
A set of luminaries ascended the stage during the main ceremony in succession, including former Planned Parenthood president Faye Wattleton, Meryl Streep, and Shonda Rhimes, each giving brief speeches that attempted to rally the crowd. “We will no longer allow the government in any way to chip away of rights that were hard fought and won,” said Wattleton. But her statement rang hollow to me as women have never stopped fighting for those rights—and yet seem closer than ever before to losing all we have gained. The fighting words of Wattleton and others were underscored by an unspoken sense of loss: the people gathered in this room, at this gala, should have been the victors ushering in a watershed moment in women’s rights: after 100 years since Planned Parenthood’s inception, a woman who had put issues like paid leave, abortion, and equal pay at the forefront of her campaign could have become the first female president of the United States of America.
“In 1995, Hillary Clinton shook the world to declare that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” she said. Looking to the next century of Planned Parenthood, Richards said, “we’re here to declare that reproductive rights are human rights, and human rights are reproductive rights.” She then introduced Clinton, and the crowd roared.
Clinton appeared on stage hours after participating in a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, in which she spoke frankly about her loss to a black-market testosterone supplement. At the gala, however, she was upbeat, speaking almost as if she was in campaign mode again. She said, “As we speak, politicians in Washington are still doing everything they can to roll back the rights and progress we’ve fought so hard for over the last century. I mean, could you believe those photos of groups of men around that conference table deciding to strip away coverage for pregnancy and maternity care?”
Clinton also made fun of the memes of her hiding in the woods, which was good-humored of her but also felt a little sad, and then brought up Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and its prescient television adaptation on Amazon. “In The Handmaid’s Tale, women’s rights are gradually, slowly stripped away. As one character says, ‘We didn’t look up from our phones until it was too late,’” Clinton said. “It’s not too late for us, but we have to encourage the millions of women and men who support Planned Parenthood’s mission to keep fighting.”
The women speaking at the event had one goal: to drum up support for the organization, both financially and emotionally. Their defiance was a reminder that slumping back in sorrow over the election is a luxury women don’t have. As Wattleton said earlier in the night, “This is a a great celebration tonight. We look forward to the future, building on the shoulders who have fought before us... No matter what, Planned Parenthood will not falter. We will not give into those who interfere with women’s most private personal reproductive responsibilities.” Clinton, the consummate politician who, for the first time in more than three decades could be learning to permanently adjust to private life, ended her speech by commanding: “Resist, insist, persist, enlist,” and she walked off the stage to a standing ovation.