Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards joined U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) and other prominent Michigan Democrats in the Michigan Union on Thursday to campaign for President Barack Obama and Stabenow’s re-election efforts, while emphasizing the importance of women’s issues amid an election cycle rife with controversy over issues such as rape and contraception.

Each woman stressed the importance of health care equality and urged political activism while expressing their support for President Barack Obama and his stance on social issues.

Aside from Stabenow and Richards, the panel also included State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) and Debbie Dingell, wife of U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) and was hosted by Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots campaign effort. The event was one of several the Obama campaign has held on college campuses around the country.

The panelists discussed how the Affordable Care Act specifically benefits women. According to Richards, the legislation is especially important because women no longer have to pay more for insurance than men, given the variety of services newly covered by the law — including mammograms, birth control, pap smears and other preventative measures — without requiring a co-pay, and it also forbids insurance companies from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

“For the first time in our lives, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition in America,” Richards said during her speech.

Richards — who has taken a leave of absence from Planned Parenthood in order to campaign for Obama — said she is passionate about helping America’s college-aged women.

“I’m really focused on women and women’s health and students,” Richards said in an interview after the event. “A lot of the folks who depend on Planned Parenthood are students.”

Richards said her main concerns about the upcoming election are claims by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that he would defund Planned Parenthood if he were elected. Though the organization is best-known for its role as an abortion provider, Richards noted that the non-profit organization performed about 750,000 preventative breast exams in 2011.

Stabenow said in an interview after the event that preventative health care measures are especially important for women of all ages.

“Whether someone is worried about their mom or their sister or their girlfriend or their wife, it’s very much about whether or not women will have access to the preventative care they need — to discover cancer or other diseases early, to be able to stay healthy,” Stabenow said.

She added that she strongly supports the president and his stance on social issues.

“What I appreciate about the president is he consistently supports access to health care for women, nondiscrimination, (and) equal pay for equal work,” Stabenow said. “There is no doubt where he stands and there never has been.”

Public Policy senior Michael Jacobson said he thinks it’s important for more men to get involved in the fight for women’s rights.

“I grew up really interested in abortion issues — really pro-life. I realized eventually that those policies don’t work for anyone in the long run,” Jacobson said. “And I believe in understanding Planned Parenthood’s philosophy about prevention.”

LSA junior Stefanie Rubinstein, the campus team leader for Organizing for America and facilitator of the event, said she hopes to be an advocate for women’s rights like the panelists do.

“I really welcome any chance I can to hear women who have made a name for themselves, especially advocates of women’s health and pay equality,” Rubinstein said. “So, I definitely felt very energized by the event.”

Richards said that an increasing number of young people, especially men, have become interested in advocating for women’s health rights.

“I think (for) this next generation, it’s sort of unthinkable to them that men and women would lose rights, and I’ve been very encouraged by the number of young men who have become active with Planned Parenthood over the last year,” Richards said.

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