Cecile Richards wants to show us that we don't need permission to fight for our rights
The Trump administration wants to limit access to abortion, birth control, and women’s health care, but Planned Parenthood will never stop fighting for the millions of patients and supporters who depend on the organization. In large part, that is thanks to Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, one of the most esteemed leaders of our time. She has spent more than a decade leading the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund while advocating for accessible and affordable health care. In January of this year, we learned that Richards is stepping down from her role as president, and we are eternally grateful for the activist work she has done and will continue to do.
In Make Trouble, Richards’s highly-anticipated memoir available April 3rd, we can keep learning from her.
Richard’s book offers thoughtful personal accounts from her days as a union organizer in New Orleans to her time campaigning for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She hopes the book will encourage women, lifting them up into positions of leadership (or shaping them into active supporters of the women around them) after the biggest upset in presidential history.
Richards talked to HelloGiggles about staying vigilant in the fight for reproductive rights and health care access, campaigning for her mother and former Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, and finding joy in activism.
HelloGiggles (HG): Make Trouble is coming out at a time when people are angry and fear a loss of progress. How can Make Trouble motivate us to keep fighting?
Cecile Richards (CR): No pressure! This book is a memoir, but it’s also a call to action for everyone who is looking around at the problems we’re facing and thinking, “Someone should really do something about that!” I write about my own experiences, like trying to figure out daycare for my daughter, Lily, when I was arrested for civil disobedience. Or campaigning for my mother’s election as Governor of Texas, when I was 8 months pregnant with twins and figuring out what maternity clothes might work for the Luling Watermelon Thump parade. Or the joys and heartbreaks of volunteering on historic presidential campaigns.
And I also write about the people I’ve met along the way who have inspired me, especially the women all over our country who aren’t waiting for permission or an invitation to be the change they want to see. I hope this book will inspire others to stand up for what they believe, try things before you’re ready, and find joy in activism and fighting for social justice.
HG: And speaking of our current political reality, I want to ask you about your 2017 meeting with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. What went through your mind? What did that conversation signal to you as you moved forward to protect women’s rights?
CR: As you might remember, those first weeks of 2017 were pretty intense. At the beginning of January, Speaker Ryan promised to put a bill on President Trump’s desk that would block patients on Medicaid from coming to Planned Parenthood for preventive care. That day, you couldn’t get a call into his office. The entire congressional switchboard was overwhelmed with calls from angry constituents.
In the midst of all this, I got a call from someone I know in the fashion industry, a Planned Parenthood supporter, who suggested that Ivanka Trump might be able to help. I was skeptical, and I thought long and hard about whether I should even accept the meeting, but ultimately decided I owed it to our patients to meet with her in good faith.
Once I heard Ivanka was bringing Jared, I asked my husband, Kirk, to come along. I figured I needed a witness if nothing else! That’s how one Sunday in February we found ourselves taking a Lyft out to the Trump golf course in New Jersey. After some quick pleasantries, we turned to the task at hand. Jared did most of the talking and kept referring to Planned Parenthood as our “business” — I think he thought Kirk worked there too, like we were some husband and wife company. Jared told us — like we didn’t know already — that the Republicans controlled everything: Congress, the courts, everything. Our backs were up against the wall, and the way he saw it, we had no choice but to bargain with him. He offered to make us a “deal”: If Planned Parenthood stopped providing abortions, not only could we keep our funding, we might even get more funding. He explained that his ideal outcome would be a headline: “Planned Parenthood discontinues abortion services.”
It was surreal, essentially being asked to barter away women’s access to health care for money. I said: “I’m not going to do that. Planned Parenthood’s mission is to provide care, no matter what. That means caring for all our patients’ reproductive health care needs. We’re not going to pit women who come to us for breast exams and birth control against women who come to us for abortion. That’s not who we are.”
To me, it signaled a fundamental lack of understanding of the lives of the women who count on Planned Parenthood for health care. I knew we were in for the fight of our lives.
HG: Of all the things you discuss in Make Trouble, which topic is closest to your heart?
CR: I had so much fun writing about my kids— what I’ve learned from raising them, and what they’ve taught me. I firmly believe that parenting is great training for organizers and change-makers. If you can wrangle the costumes for the school play in between work meetings, you can definitely get a group together to make calls to your member of Congress!
HG: What makes you feel empowered? How can others find empowerment?
CR: My mom used to tell me, “Cecile, you only get one life, and this is it. There are no do-overs, and no second chances.” I’ve thought about those words at every turning point in my life like when I was applying for a job I didn’t feel qualified for as president of Planned Parenthood. I think about them now when I meet women who are doing things they could never have imagined themselves doing, like running for office or taking on their member of Congress at a town hall.
HG: How will you be continuing your legacy as a defender of women’s rights once you leave Planned Parenthood?
CR: I’m leaving my position at Planned Parenthood, but I’m definitely not leaving the field! I intend to continue to fight for women as one of Planned Parenthood’s 11.5 million proud supporters. I’ll be out there campaigning for candidates who stand with women, and doing everything I can to empower women to make our voices heard and to vote! If we do, we can change the direction of this country.