Since she was 13, the author writes, she’s been “making trouble” in the name of those in need.
There’s a chilling scene near the end of Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards’ new book in which she is invited to meet with Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, to talk about the proposed health-care plan being pushed hard by Republicans — and President Donald Trump.
The couple cut to the chase pretty quickly: If the nonprofit stopped performing abortions, they told Richards, then its funding would be secure.
If not, well … they couldn’t promise anything.
“It was surreal,” Richards writes, “essentially being asked to barter away women’s rights for more money.”
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Raised to do exactly what she titled her book — “Make Trouble” — Richards refused.
“Look,” she told Kushner and Trump, “women don’t come to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement. They come for health care.”
She reminded them that federal funding is not used to fund abortions, and “that there is no way what you are describing is going to happen.” (It didn’t; the proposed plan was defeated by a single vote made by Sen. John McCain.)
In that episode and others in this memoir, Richards gives the reader a clear view of what she has dealt with as the head of the largest single provider of reproductive health services (including abortions) in the country. (Richards announced in January that she is stepping down from Planned Parenthood, but no date has been set).
If it is not the threat of the nonprofit’s funding being cut off, it is Richards herself who has been cut off by congressional committee members, protesters, people she encounters in the airport.
And yet, one learns why and how Richards is a steely fighter: She was raised by the wisecracking, withering, swirly-haired Gov. Ann Richards of Texas, who early on enlisted her daughter in her own political battles in the name of serving those in need.
Cecile Richards started making trouble at 13, when she crafted a black armband from felt she found in her mother’s sewing kit and wore it to school, in solidarity with activists who had called for a national Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.
She was sent to see the principal, who called her parents. They weren’t home to answer the phone, so Richards was sent back to class. That night, her mother railed against the principal for trying to censure her — and an activist was born.
The book tracks her as a college student working to feed poor families in her college town, a young woman spending her summers as a union organizer and then as a wife and mother taking on conservative Washington, D.C. — and religious and sexist forces — to protect women seeking health care and yes, abortions.
Richards writes in an easy, conversational tone that could serve as a manual for those seeking a life of activism. She details the struggle to gather crowds and raise money; the anguish of hard choices, like her mother’s treatment for alcoholism. She is generous in her thanks for those who helped her and her family along the way. And she sprinkles the books with tiny, yet telling details — like how she has learned to find where she needs to be by looking for the clutch of protesters holding pictures of unborn babies.
“I try never to be so immune to criticism that I just shut it all out — after all, sometimes, there’s a grain of truth to it,” she writes. “But I’ve learned from Mom’s experiences and my own not to let it determine how I feel about myself. If I did, I simply would not be able to function some days.”
Richards was sure to include — and in a way, honor — the facts around health care, abortions and the people who choose to have them. There are long passages about policy, but Richards personalizes the statistics and surveys to be sure you see faces rather than numbers. A health-center manager setting up for the day. A woman who pulled Richards aside to say a Planned Parenthood exam had detected a lump in her breast, essentially saving her life.
One comes away wishing those in power — especially those holding the federal purse strings — would read “Make Trouble,” if only to better understand the path Richards has not only forged for herself, but women nationwide.
Which leads, in a backward way, to the first scene of the book, where Richards describes her now-famous testimony before a congressional committee investigating a series of videos by the so-called Center for Medical Progress. The videos were edited to show Planned Parenthood doctors and staff purportedly talking about selling fetal tissue.
Richards describes prepping with her staff for days and on the morning of her appearance, changing her shoes so that she didn’t have a designer label on her, lest the right-wing react. Then she sat for five hours before a committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who interrupted her and badgered her. Five hours.
“Later, the Center for Medical Progress was indicted on15 felony counts,” she wrote. “As for Chaffetz, he resigned his seat in Congress. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
“Make Trouble” by Cecile Richards (Touchstone Books, 304 pp., $27)
Cecile Richards will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, April 9 at University Temple United Methodist Church, 1415 N.E. 43rd St., Seattle; tickets are $27 (admits two, includes book) and available through brownpapertickets.com.