Richards isn’t just from Texas, she’s the daughter of late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, giving her just the political pedigree she needs in her position as national president of Planned Parenthood.
Her perpetually newsmaking organization runs more than 800 clinics, providing family planning and sexual health services to more than 3 million people a year.
Richards, 53, worked for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as deputy chief of staff, and she founded and ran America Votes, a coalition of voter registration groups.
Richards, who became president in 2006, is currently touring Planned Parenthood centers in the Pacific Northwest. We talked to her about the recent fight in Congress over birth control, her hefty salary, and why Planned Parenthood does more for men’s health than most people know.
WW: Every Planned Parenthood location in Oregon offers men’s health services. What services are offered, not just here but nationwide?
Cecile Richards: Ten percent of our patients now are young men, and that’s increasing every year. They’re the fastest-growing population now coming to us, and I’d say a lot of folks come to us now for STD testing and treatment because we’re a confidential, affordable provider. They do vasectomies in Bend, and a fair number of them.
Is it because more couples seek services together?
It’s that. Young men are not only our patients but our educators. That translates into activism. Now so many of the next generation of activists for Planned Parenthood and reproductive health care in general are young men.
How is Planned Parenthood changing so that it’s inclusive for men and women?
With this Congress that’s so far to the right—it was really going after ending basic access to birth control and access to cancer screenings and STD testing and treatment—thousands of young men got involved to stand for Planned Parenthood. Men have just as vested an interest in birth control as women.
Do you believe laws requiring women to receive sonograms prior to abortions affect their decisions to have an abortion?
We always counsel women on all their options if they have an unintended pregnancy. What we have found historically is that women make incredibly responsible decisions. The thing that is really disturbing about most of these laws is that they basically assume women are incapable of making their own personal, responsible decisions about their health care.
But these laws push women to get more information before making a decision.
Legislators, most of whom will never be pregnant, [are] writing their own ideas about what doctors should be telling their patients. It assumes doctors aren’t responsible, that they have to be led by the legislature to tell women what to think. Most legislation being passed contains erroneous information. It’s not even medically accurate. It assumes that women won’t have the wherewithal to actually talk to their doctor about keeping a pregnancy or whatever alternatives there are.
Bill Clinton spoke about keeping abortion legal and rare. Are we closer to his vision?
That’s actually the most disturbing thing about what’s happened this year. What the House of Representatives tried to do was essentially say that [women] could no longer go to Planned Parenthood for basic birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment. They were going after the kinds of services that women depend on to not have an unintended pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood is at the center of the abortion fight but has been pretty quiet when debate about the HPV vaccine came up recently. Why is that?
We provide the HPV vaccine, and we have ever since it was approved by the FDA. We’re very enthusiastic supporters of this vaccine. It’s unbelievable how it’s been politicized. As a mother of two daughters, for me it’s fantastic that there’s a vaccination they could get to try to prevent HPV and cervical cancer.
The whole point got lost in that debate. My concern was that some of the statements that Congresswoman [Michele] Bachmann made were just completely unmedically founded. I’m worried that it has given people a total misimpression about the importance of this vaccination for young people.
In the efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, a lot was made of your salary—close to $400,000 per year. Planned Parenthood declined to comment on it. Why?
It’s public record. It always has been. I work hard for my salary, and I think that’s a red herring. Planned Parenthood is the most cost-effective provider of family planning services in this country. The far right has done everything they can to undermine us and to create non-issues, which I think that is.