Cecile Richards’s last day as the president of Planned Parenthood was in April, but she’s spent every day since continuing to fight on behalf of women across America. “I think it’s a frightening time for women, but it’s also an exciting time,” Richards tells Yahoo Lifestyle of the political climate in this country. “Women aren’t asking for permission, they’re just going.”
Asking for permission is something Richards has never done, a personal ethos reiterated in the title of her memoir, Make Trouble, which came out earlier this year. “Start before you’re ready,” Richards says of her book’s main theme. “I think we women always think we have to be perfect, we have to know everything, we have to have all these certain experiences [before we do something]. This is a moment in which more and more women — we’re seeing record numbers of women running for office, many of whom never thought they would do that — are just jumping in.”
Jumping in and making an impact are two things to which Richards has dedicated her life. When she was growing up in the traditionally conservative state of Texas, Richards’s parents were Democrats heavily involved in state politics. Her mother, Ann, eventually became governor of the state and a feminist icon in her own right.
Richards started her career as an organizer, hopscotching all over the country with her husband, Kirk, and their children to New Orleans, California, Texas, and Washington, D.C., to fight for the rights of hotel workers, nursing-home workers, and janitors, as well as public education, and to eventually work on her mother’s campaign. Richards also worked for Nancy Pelosi when Pelosi was the Democratic whip. In 2006, the family moved to New York when Richards was named the president of Planned Parenthood.
Richards left a profound legacy at the organization she helmed for over a decade — most notably alongside President Obama helping to secure free birth-control coverage for every woman with health insurance and influencing the national trend toward historically low teen-pregnancy rates.
As the Trump administration now seeks to undo the work Richards and Planned Parenthood have done, the 60-year-old Richards is doing everything she can to protect women’s rights, particularly their access to health care. “The government is trying to end the teen-pregnancy-prevention program for politics purposes — not because it’s good for young people,” Richards says. “When politicians put politics above women’s health care, it’s just discouraging.”
Since leaving Planned Parenthood, Richards has been traveling around the country, working hard to change the political makeup and bring more women into power. “Women are the most powerful political, economic, cultural force in the country, and that’s really the work that I’m focused on right now. How do we ensure that every single woman in this country is registered to vote, participates in our democracy; how do we make sure that we begin to really rethink our economy so that women are considered a fundamental part of it and things like pregnancy and childbirth aren’t considered a nuisance but, in fact, a celebration?” she says. “Things are going to change in this country and women are going to be the agents of that change.”
For now, there are very serious obstacles being thrown in the face of that promised change, most notably, according to Richards, what’s happening in Congress with the threat to the national family-planning program, as well as on the judiciary level with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
“President Trump said he would only nominate justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. His goal is to gut Roe and criminalize women seeking abortions. That is his goal,” she says. “The right to legal abortions has existed in this country for more than 40 years, and they’re poised to appoint a justice to the court who would be the fifth vote they’ve been waiting for a long, long time.” Kavanaugh would, in theory, be that fifth vote that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Abortion existed long before Roe v. Wade, it was simply unsafe and illegal and young, healthy women died in emergency rooms all across this country,” she says. “I still meet doctors who remember those days. We cannot go back to a time when women’s lives were at risk, but I fear that by putting politics ahead of the lives of women, that is what this administration is going to do.”
Richards is trying to thwart the efforts of the administration and focus on electing Democrats, particularly women, to office in the midterms. “I do feel like women are coming into their own and are really just seeking a country where they can fully participate, raise their families, support each other, and just feel good about the world,” she says. “We’re going to get there. I mean, there’s going to be some misery between now and then, but talking to women around the U.S., I feel wildly optimistic.”
Richards says the question she’s asked most frequently by women across this country is: “How can I make a difference?”
Many people think the way Richards can make the most difference is by running for office herself. “I don’t have any plans right now, I just don’t know,” she says about her own political aspirations. “I’m going to get through this November election; it’s certainly not my plan. Never say never, but there are so many exciting women running for office right now, it’s really fun being out there trying to help them.”
Summing up her hopes for the future, Richards adds, “If women could really be empowered to participate in the workforce, to be in political office, to live out their dream in whatever way, our country would be so much stronger, our democracy would be so much stronger, and anything I can do to help make that happen will be a great honor.” Sounds mighty campaign ready and worthy.
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