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President Obama To Speak at Barnard as Women’s Issues Heat Up

President Obama shows support for women at college where Sheryl Sandberg and Meryl Streep spoke previously

President Barack Obama will be Barnard College’s commencement speaker this year, on the heels of jumping into the controversy over medical coverage for women's birth control.

The women's college, part of Columbia University, announced the news on its website.

New York Times editor Jill Abramson was originally scheduled to speak, but she will step aside, the college said.

“This is an extraordinary honor for Barnard and we are thrilled to welcome President Obama for this important moment in the lives of our graduates and their families,” Barnard President Deborah L. Spar said in a statement.

“His commitment to empowering women is so meaningful to our students, who aspire to lead and make their mark on the world. No doubt, the President's words will make this year's Commencement truly unforgettable.”

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The news comes as culture wars have heated up around women's right to choose their own birth control and have it covered by medical insurance.

Last week Obama publicly threw his support behind Sandra Fluke, who was attacked by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh as a "slut" for testifying before Congress about the need for religious institutions to provide coverage for women's contraception. 

 It hardly seems coincidence that the president has now decided to speak at one of the nation’s premiere women's colleges.

He attended Columbia University, which is affiliated with Barnard and located across the street, graduating in 1983. He then went on to Harvard Law School.

Commencement speakers at Barnard are more typically women leaders, and the President's decision to speak here is also considered a nod of support toward women's education in a year when that voting bloc will be important.

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Last year Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was the speaker.  Past speakers include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actress Meryl Streep and U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

Abramson, who took over the top post of the Times last September, had previously been slated to speak at Barnard’s Morningside Heights campus in Manhattan.

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She is a New York local and graduate of Harvard University.

Barnard’s statement says that Abramson “has noted that she is happy to speak at Barnard at a later date.”