With President Trump and the Republican Party determined to bulldoze over decades of women’s health-care gains, reproductive-rights advocates like Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, have been on the front lines of an all-consuming battle to beat back that onslaught. “If we had a majority of people in Congress who could get pregnant, we wouldn’t be fighting about birth control,” she told The American Prospect, underlining one of her signature phrases. “I look forward to that day.”
After the 2016 election, Planned Parenthood and Richards (whom The American Prospect featured in a cover story last year) emerged as a kinetic force in the resistance movement. In tandem with dozens of other progressive organizations, Planned Parenthood has spearheaded get-out the-vote drives, town hall meetings on health-care policies, and immigrant-rights and racial-justice marches.
The Prospect spoke to Richards before she and Danielle Henry, of the Young Leaders of Planned Parenthood, accepted a community activism award (one of five presented Thursday night) from the Center for Community Change at its annual “Change Champions Awards” ceremony in Washington.
This conversation has been edited.
The American Prospect: As President Trump continues to hack away at the Affordable Care Act, where do you the see the country headed as Americans begin to turn their attention to 2018 midterm elections?
Richards: We’re seeing a progressive resurgence like I’ve never seen in my lifetime. I’ve been an organizer my entire life: I started out in the labor movement and am obviously now with Planned Parenthood. It’s almost impossible to channel all of the energy and outrage that’s out there in America.
It’s important for progressives to remember and celebrate our wins. [Republicans] control everything, Congress, the White House—and the fact that we’ve been able to beat back the repeal of Obamacare and the defunding of Planned Parenthood for months now shows that grassroots organizing is working.
I hope this will energize people going into the 2018 elections. There are a number of members of Congress who voted against the interests of their districts, voted against health-care rights for working people. These are issues that are going to animate the voters—they already have.
What do you make of this unprecedented, ten-month-long assault on women’s reproductive rights?
It feels like we are back in the 1850s instead of 2017. The thought that the president of the United States and all of the people that he’s put in office, and the folks in Congress, are trying to take away birth control benefits for people is absolutely crazy.
More than 90 percent of the women in this country use birth control. We are now at record low for teenage pregnancy; we are at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancies. That’s something that we should both be celebrating and doubling down on. But this president is putting his own ego and his own politics ahead of the welfare of American families.
When people say, “What can I possibly do at a very local level? All of this seems very daunting,” how do you respond?
What they can do is not wait for instructions. What I’ve seen across the country, whether it is in rural Michigan, Indiana, or my home state of Texas, is that people are organizing on their own. Find a way that you can make a difference in your own home district. A record number of people are running for office. So many women who have never thought about running before are now registering and, that, to me, is where we are going to change it.