HOOKSETT, N.H. (AP) — Planned Parenthood is swinging behind Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential race and says that won't mean negative campaigning against her primary opponents.
The endorsement by the group's political arm marks Planned Parenthood's first time wading into a presidential primary, and it comes as Clinton remains locked in a tight contest with Bernie Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, home of the first two nominating contests. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley trails both rivals in the race.
Accepting the endorsement Sunday in New Hampshire, Clinton sought to energize her Democratic base with a passionate pledge to always protect reproductive rights. And she painted a dark picture of what women's health care would look like under a Republican president, singling out two of the top Republican contenders by name.
"Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and their powerful friends may be trying to drag us back to the Stone Age, but we've got our sights set on the future," Clinton said.
And she offered a nod to the competitive state of her own primary in the first voting states.
"I need your help, starting here in the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus," she said. "We can win this election."
Planned Parenthood is a large provider of abortion and reproductive health services and has become a lightning rod in the 2016 campaign. Most Republican presidential candidates object to continued federal financing of the organization and a measure has passed the Republican-led House to stop the flow of money.
Richards said Planned Parenthood is making an early endorsement so that it can begin reminding voters about the Republican candidates' "extreme" positions on abortion rights and women's health. The group plans to spend at least $20 million in the 2016 campaign.
"I don't know that it has been particularly clear in the Republican primary just exactly how extreme these candidates are," Richards said.
Although Planned Parenthood doesn't plan to campaign negatively against Sanders and O'Malley, Richards highlighted Clinton's long record of supporting women's health care, from her time at the Children's Defense Fund to tenure as first lady and a U.S. Senator from New York.
"We don't need just a friend, a solid vote, a supporting statement — we need a fighter," Richards said.
Many Republicans stepped up their criticism of Planned Parenthood after anti-abortion-rights activists released underground video that showed an official from the group talking about the price of fetal parts. The video did not establish that the group was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal parts as some alleged.
"A lot of the Republicans are kind of fact averse," Clinton said, referencing the GOP reaction to the videos. "They do seem to live in an evidence-free zone."
Clinton warned the crowd that electing a Republican president would eliminate Democrats' fire wall between a repeal of the president's health care overhaul law, GOP efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood and the appointment of "right wing" justices to the Supreme Court.
"If a Republican wins this election and gets the chance to stack the Supreme Court with right-wing justices, together they will accelerate the move to take America in the wrong direction on so many issues that you and I have fought for," she said. "I shudder to think what Republicans would do if given the chance."