The outgoing president of Planned Parenthood took over the reproductive-health nonprofit 12 years ago when George W. Bush was president. He was a strong abortion opponent, but from her current perch, it definitely seems like the good old days.
Cecile Richards just finished her Planned Parenthood farewell tour. Lots to reminisce about. But let’s start with her famous meeting with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
It was after the election, and Javanka wanted to share their great idea for bridging the gap between Planned Parenthood and the new Republican administration.
“You have to give everybody a chance,” Richards said mildly.
The couple proposed that Planned Parenthood simply give up abortion services, and then let Jared lobby Congress for more family planning funding. It was a little like suggesting to Mark Zuckerberg that he could get past his business problems if he dropped the part about being on the internet.
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“I guess I was just shocked at how naive they seemed,” Richards mused in a recent interview.
Ivanka, Richards recalled, also felt “I didn’t appreciate” her father’s supportiveness during the presidential debates. Donald Trump did indeed say “millions of women” were helped by Planned Parenthood, before adding that he would defund it anyway “because I’m pro-life.” Details, details.
Richards, 60, has had a long career in organizing and politics. She took over Planned Parenthood 12 years ago when George W. Bush was president. He was a strong abortion opponent, but from her current perch, it definitely seems like the good old days.
“Look, the Bush administration was not friendly to reproductive rights,” she said. “But they weren’t ideologues. They didn’t try to dismantle family planning.”
That brings us to Trump. If you looked back on that moment when the next president appeared to be throwing in a good word for Planned Parenthood, you’d notice that he limited his praise to its helping women with “cervical cancer, breast cancer.”
That’s it. And the clinics do provide critical basic health services to millions of mainly low-income women. But Planned Parenthood is at its very roots about, um, family planning. And now Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services is being stuffed with people who appear to believe that the only good birth control is abstinence.
We will stop here to contemplate the fact that an administration that is all about stopping abortion wants to destroy programs meant to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
OK, moment of silence is over.
But while we’re into irony, let’s dwell briefly on the idea of Donald Trump presiding over a drive for chastity, i.e., “sexual risk avoidance.” You know that no matter how desperately Trump caters to that dreaded base, he’s not seriously championing a reduction in copulation.
“This has been Mike Pence’s mission,” Richards said. “When he was governor he did everything he could to shut us down.” (The crusade was certainly successful in one low-income Indiana county, where the Planned Parenthood clinic was driven away, and with it the only free testing for HIV in the area. Infection rates soared.)
Planned Parenthood’s patients are certainly worried about what’s next. They’ve been calling up “desperate to get birth control — especially IUDs,” Richards said. Presumably, the best form of contraception in the age of Trump is one that could last you past 2020.
Planned Parenthood has been a flash point ever since 1916, when Margaret Sanger was arrested for handing out birth-control information. These days, its opposition seems particularly obsessed.
Yet at the same time the organization is becoming more and more popular. A recent Fox News survey found it had a 58 percent favorable rating — the top in a crop that included everything from labor unions to Donald Trump. In a similar NBC News poll, Planned Parenthood came in ahead of the FBI and everyone else on the questionnaire, including the Republican Party.
For Richards it’s been a stupendously successful run. She’s just published a memoir, “Make Trouble,” in which she writes about her own history of hell-raising, going back to a boycott of the class prayer when she was in grade school.
Making trouble was actually a kind of family business — her mother, Ann Richards, was a pathbreaking governor of Texas, the first woman ever elected to that job without being married to a prior governor who got indicted.
Nobody would blame Richards for wanting to move on after a dozen years, three presidents, endless lawsuits and a series of right-wing undercover filmmakers trying unsuccessfully to prove that Planned Parenthood made money selling fetal tissue. And then there was that House hearing where an irate congressman told her she was just like a criminal.
It isn’t clear what her next step is going to be, although you certainly would wish her a long vacation.
Maybe a run for office? Many people who connect Richards with her mother presume she lives in Houston or Waco. But she’s actually a New Yorker.
At the moment, we’re sort of busy here with Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon, but I think I speak for many state residents when I say there are plenty of elected officials we would be really happy to see terrified out of their socks by a Cecile Richards challenge. Let the games begin.