Thalia Cassuto talking to Representative Louise Slaughter from New York.
It’s hard, as a woman, not to be disillusioned with the current state of Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration. It often feels like women’s reproductive rights take a step back each day, with lawmakers somehow under the impression that it’s easy to obtain birth control and that men shouldn’t have to pay for prenatal and maternity care. But when it comes to 86-year-old Planned Parenthood volunteer Thalia “Tobby” Cassuto, who’s been fighting for women’s rights since the 1960s, she’s not ready to give up just yet. And what’s more, she wants young women to come to the same conclusion.
Cassuto first encountered Planned Parenthood in 1955 when she visited a facility in Queens, NY, to obtain birth control. “That was where you went for birth control. It never occurred to me to go anywhere else,” she explained to POPSUGAR. By the time the women’s rights movement started in the 1960s, Cassuto had embraced life as an activist and was heavily involved with her local Planned Parenthood. Cassuto grew up in a world where women had fewer choices over their career, bodies, and life, and she now hopes that young women understand how much better they have it in 2017. But she doesn’t want them to take those rights completely for granted. “Young women are better off but need to very wary of how well off they are because it’s a slippery slope,” she said. “It’s easy for some of what they take for granted to be reduced. Look at this terrible fight we’re having to keep Planned Parenthood as part of health care – it’s grotesque what they are trying to do.”
“I’m not here because I need anything. I’m here because I care about my country and the people in it.”
She also recalls growing up at a time when women like her couldn’t own their own checkbook or credit card. Cassuto worries that new rules around women today are being formed. “Society norms become embroidered in rules and that’s what’s happening now. Society norms – and they aren’t exactly society norms, they are the norms of a certain component of society – about the fact, for example, that women are not entitled to safe and legal abortions if they are not ready to have children,” she said. “And isn’t that in danger of again being denied us in the law if we’re not careful.”
It’s for this reason that Cassuto’s been contacting her local congresspeople for years. “I feel wonderful about getting my voice heard,” she said and wants nothing more for young women to feel the same way and to keep fighting. “[They need to] understand why it’s necessary to keep fighting and understand the history of why it’s still with us. Understand that it’s part of a broader fight. That when they fight for women’s rights, they are fighting for decency – not just for themselves.”
These days, she visits the office of Representative John Faso of New York’s nineteenth congressional district every single Friday. Faso voted in favor of the American Health Care Act passed in the House, and while she’s sometimes there to support her local government, some cases merit protest from the 86-year-old as well. For Cassuto, her protests are the least thing she can do. “Listen,” Cassuto said, “I’m going to be 87 years old. I don’t need anything – I’m not here because I need anything. I’m here because I care about my country and the people in it.”