Planned Parenthood has announced that its president, Cecile Richards, plans to step down after twelve years at the helm of the women's reproductive rights and healthcare organization.
As first reported by BuzzFeed, a Planned Parenthood official said in a statement: "Cecile plans to discuss 2018 and the next steps for Planned Parenthood's future at the upcoming board meeting." The Washington Post reports that people with knowledge of Richards' decision believed that prior to the 2016 election she was expecting a Hilary Clinton win and preparing to move on. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the organization's 501(c)(4) political arm, spent $38 million in support of Clinton and other Democrats; after the election, Richards helped position Planned Parenthood at the forefront of the "resistance," as its membership grew from 9.5 million to 11 million.
"She has always answered my calls and has never said 'no'," Linda Sarsour, a co-founder of the Women's March, told the Post. "An ally in every sense of the word."
Planned Parenthood has long been a target of conservatives, and Richards has spent much of her tenure engaged in fights to protect its federal and state funding. In 2017, House Republicans passed legislation cutting off federal funds to the organization as part of their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act; Planned Parenthood activists worked to win over Republican anti-abortion rights senators from Alaska and Maine, and the legislation died in the Senate. The organization receives more than $500 million in federal funding for non-abortion services such as cancer screenings, contraception, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. A bill to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions passed, however, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.
The daughter of the late Ann Richards, a former governor of Texas, Richards also saw Planned Parenthood through five congressional investigations and more than a dozen state investigations after an anti-abortion rights activist in 2015 used secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos to claim that the organization was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. While subsequent investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing, in December the Justice Department sent a letter to members of Congress requesting records from those investigations, a sign the Trump administration may be interested in revisiting the controversy.
"For twelve months and counting, the one thing standing between this administration and their goal of ending access to health care and reproductive rights and safe and legal abortion has been millions of determined women," Richards said last weekend at "Power to the Polls," a political rally in Las Vegas held in conjunction with this year's Women's March.
Richards currently serves on the board of the Ford Foundation and previously was president of America Votes, a coalition of national Democratic Party–affiliated organizations, and deputy chief of staff for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
"Planned Parenthood has been a trusted resource in this country for more than a century, and I will be leaving the organization well-positioned to serve and fight for our patients for a century more. Every day we see the incredible power that grassroots voices can have — there has never been a better moment to be an activist," Richards said in a statement issued by the organization. "You can bet I'll be marching right alongside them, continuing to travel around the country advocating for the basic rights and health care that all people deserve. I've been an activist my entire life — and that won't stop any time soon."
(Photo credit: Lorie Shaull)