Washington (AFP) - Planned Parenthood, the influential US women's health care provider savaged by anti-abortion Republicans who want to shut it down, said Thursday it was backing Hillary Clinton for president.
The move will be a political and funding boon for the former secretary of state, who is a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood, which said its advocacy organizations would spend at least $20 million in the 2016 election cycle to help elect the Democratic frontrunner.
It is the first time the 100-year-old organization is endorsing a candidate in the primary process, which kicks off in three weeks in the heartland state of Iowa.
An official endorsement announcement will be made Sunday in New Hampshire, the group said.
"We're proud to endorse Hillary Clinton for president of the United States," Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Cecile Richards said in a statement.
"No other candidate in our nation's history has demonstrated such a strong commitment to women or such a clear record on behalf of women's health and rights."
Clinton is being challenged for her party's nomination by independent Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. The election is in November.
Clinton and the organization, which operates 700 clinics nationwide, have been allies for years and her campaign has gone out of its way to highlight the many times she has stood with the group.
Richards' daughter works on the Clinton campaign's staff in Iowa, according to The New York Times, which first reported the group's endorsement.
Last year Clinton vigorously defended Planned Parenthood when it found itself accused by anti-abortion activists of selling fetal tissue to researchers.
The allegations were never proven, but in October the organization stopped accepting reimbursements for costs of the donations.
This week the Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation that would place a moratorium on all federal funding for the organization, a move that Planned Parenthood's supporters said would serve to restrict women's access to health care, including cancer screenings and family planning.
President Barack Obama is certain to veto the measure.
Clinton expressed thanks for the endorsement and said the coming campaign and election is crucial for women's health and reproductive rights.
Planned Parenthood and its patients and advocates "are a crucial line of defense against the dangerous agenda being advanced by every Republican candidate for president," Clinton said.
"This week was a jarring reminder of what's at stake in 2016."
Clinton and Democratic lawmakers are defenders of a woman's right to obtain an abortion, a medical procedure still fiercely opposed by many Republicans 43 years after the US Supreme Court affirmed its legality nationwide.