Cecile Richards has had quite a year. Lawmakers have been trying to “defund” Planned Parenthood for at least a decade, but with Donald Trump in the White House and the Republican-led Congress working to overhaul our nation’s health-care system, it seemed legislators might finally get their wish. Both houses included a provision in their health-care plans that would have pulled $500 million from the nonprofit—about 40 percent of its budget—for one year. Congress may have failed to pass its proposals this time around, but Richards has been on the front lines too long to rest easy. Marie Claire visited Richards at her office in Manhattan to talk abortion, Ivanka, and whether she’ll ever run for office.
Marie Claire: You’ve been the head of Planned Parenthood for 11 years. How does this year stack up?
Cecile Richards: It has certainly been a year of challenges because so many things we were able to achieve over the last decade in terms of healthcare outcomes for women—we now have a record low for teenage pregnancy, a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy, the lowest rate of abortion since Roe v Wade was decided—are now at risk. But I’ve also never seen the outpouring of engagement, particularly among women, standing up and fighting for what they believe is rightly theirs, and fighting not only for themselves, but a whole generation. So, if there was any silver lining to this year, it’s that!
MC: Senator Elizabeth Warren said on the Senate floor recently that she’s tired of having to explain what Planned Parenthood does (and doesn’t do), and I thought, “Well, gosh, how must Cecile Richards feel.”
CR: Look, some people say, “What could ever change their minds?” I think the one thing that would change anyone’s mind is coming to a Planned Parenthood Health Center. Visit with our patients, speak with our staff, our doctors, our clinicians, and see the vital healthcare that we provide every single day. I was just in Speaker Paul Ryan’s district. We have three health centers there that provide only preventative services like family planning and pap smears—they don’t provide abortion. And now the women there are at-risk of losing access to care if our centers close. They’re panicked because if you’re in Racine, Wisconsin, and Planned Parenthood isn’t available to you, there’s isn’t anyone else providing birth control there. So I just wish, even Paul Ryan, I would just love it if he would come see our center and visit with these women, and then tell us: What is it that you object to? And what do you want to tell your constituents about where they’re supposed to go if their local Planned Parenthood closes?
I think, look, until we have more people in Congress who have had to deal with a lump in their breast and are worried about, “Can I find an affordable provider that can see me now?” things are not going to change. MC: How does it feel to constantly be under attack?
CR: I have always worked in some area where it wasn’t easy for organizations that I think move us forward—whether it’s for voting rights or women’s rights or environmental rights. So, if I wasn’t in the midst of controversy, I probably would be in the wrong job. But, also, one of the things that is so important to me about Planned Parenthood is that we have the vast majority of the country supporting us. When you have one in five women in this country who’ve been to you for healthcare,that is a very deep well to draw from. So, it’s an interesting organization—you may feel like you’re on the front lines, but you never feel alone.
MC: What goes through your mind when you hear male legislators saying things like, “Well, I don’t understand why men should have to pay for birth control or maternity care.”
CR: It’s extraordinary. Everyone had a mother at some point, right? That is something that seems to be completely lost. And not just our mothers—there are members of Congress who have wives, daughters, some of them have granddaughters. Can you imagine? Basically, what, of course, concerns me is that probably their relatives—because they have Congressional health insurance— they’ll always be able to get coverage. But what about other womsen? I heard a young woman speaking at a town hall meeting, who said, “I’ll be the first person in my family to graduate from high school and college, and so why are you taking my access to family planning that can help me actually be part of the American Dream that we all desire?” It’s very hard to see the double standard, and I don’t see anybody trying to take away men’s access to healthcare. That seems to be pretty well intact.
“Why are you taking my access to family planning that can help me actually be part of the American Dream?”