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“A War on Women”: DN! Exclusive with Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards on GOP Bills Targeting Abortion and Reproductive Rights

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Since taking control of the House last month, Republicans have introduced several major anti-abortion bills that women’s rights activists say could place severe limitations on access not only to abortion, but complete reproductive health and family planning services. We speak to Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which provides family planning, contraception and abortion services at more than 800 clinics and health centers across the U.S. serving more than three million patients a year. No federal dollars are used to fund its abortion services. “The most ridiculous part about it is that, for Congressman Pence and the others who are proposing these bills, Planned Parenthood does more to prevent unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion than any organization in America,” Richards says. “This is not what the American people voted for.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at what’s being described as “the most dangerous legislative assault on women’s health” ever. Since taking power in January, the Republican-led House has introduced several major anti-choice bills that women’s rights activists say could place severe limitations on access to reproductive health services. This, despite a campaign pledge to focus on creating jobs. Republican House Speaker John Boehner hailed the proposed legislation.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: A ban on taxpayer funding of abortions is the will of the people, and it ought to be the will of the land. The current law, particularly as enforced by this administration, does not reflect the will of the American people. Last year, we listened to the American people through America Speaking Out. They spoke on this issue loudly and clearly. So we have included it in our pledge, and today we’re making good on that commitment.

Congressman Chris Smith has introduced bipartisan legislation that codifies the Hyde Amendment and other similar policies by permanently applying a ban on taxpayer funding of abortions across all federal programs. This commonsense legislation reflects the will of the people and deserves the support of the House. It’s one of our highest legislative priorities, and as such, I’ve directed that it receive the designation of H.R. 3.

AMY GOODMAN: That was House Speaker John Boehner. As he noted, H.R. 3, called the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” would cut off public funds for abortions. A second bill, H.R. 358, called the “Protect Life Act,” would prohibit federal funds from being used to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion services under the Affordable Care Act. A third bill, H.R. 217, called the “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act,” would deny federal family planning funds to any organizations that perform abortions, regardless of whether or not the organization uses that federal money for abortions.

To discuss the legislation, we’re joined now by Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. Through its affiliates, Planned Parenthood provides family planning, contraception and abortion services at more than 800 health clinics across the country, serving more than three million patients a year.

Cecile Richards, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., today, where you are lobbying Congress?

CECILE RICHARDS: Sure. Thanks, Amy. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be back.

The House leadership in Congress has basically just declared war on women, really from day one. And I know you had that clip there from Speaker Boehner, but it goes much further than that. They not only are now trying to — federal funding hasn’t been available for abortion for more than 30 years, but what they’re really doing is trying to overturn the legal right to abortion in any context. As well, though, it’s way beyond abortion. Now they’re basically trying to end family planning and access to birth control in America. The Republican budget that came out basically gets rid of the nation’s Family Planning Program. And as well, we expect in the next day or two, with the support of the Speaker, there will be an amendment to basically end all federal funds going to Planned Parenthood, including funds that are used for basic birth control, cancer screenings and preventive care for more than three million people every year.

AMY GOODMAN: In your 800 clinics of Planned Parenthood, how much of the work is around abortion? What is the array of services that you provide?

CECILE RICHARDS: Less than 10 percent of our services are related to abortion. In fact, 90 percent, more than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s care is preventive care. We do — we provide birth control to about two-and-a-half million people every year. We do almost a million cancer screenings for breast exams, as well as cervical cancer screenings. We’re now one of the largest providers of STD testing and treatment in the country.

And for so many women who come to Planned Parenthood, like other family planning clinics, we are their only doctor. You know, the vast majority of women who come to Planned Parenthood, it will be the only doctor they see all year. And so, I think one of the most damaging things about what’s being proposed by the Republican leadership right now in Congress is it would basically take away healthcare for three million people who currently have it.

AMY GOODMAN: Does any federal funding go to abortion now?

CECILE RICHARDS: No, and it hasn’t since — it hasn’t for more than 30 years. So, I mean, I was really struck by the clip that you played from Speaker Boehner talking about the will of the people. I actually thought the will of the people, based on this last election, was to get the American economy back going and get people back to work. So it’s quite stunning to me that instead of focusing on jobs and really getting the economy going, they are spending all of their time talking about issues that I think the American people are settled. And the fact that they would, after this healthcare — you know, working over the last two years to finally expand healthcare access to folks in America, their very proposals would take away healthcare for more than five million women who currently have access to it through the nation’s Family Planning Program or through Planned Parenthood.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go through these three major bills right now before Congress.


AMY GOODMAN: First, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which critics call the “Stupak on Steroids” bill.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, the Smith — the Chris Smith bill that Speaker Boehner was referring to is the most far-reaching bill we have ever seen. And not only does it codify the Hyde Amendment, which of course we disagree with, but — that is currently the law that federal funds can’t be used for abortion — but it even says, if you use your own money, a woman uses her own money to purchase health insurance that covers abortion, she will have to pay higher taxes, because she can no longer get the tax benefits of having healthcare coverage that’s comprehensive. Same with small business owners. If you’re a business owner and you get a tax benefit from providing — from providing healthcare coverage, if that coverage also includes abortion coverage, you can no longer get that tax benefit. And it’s going to deny — essentially, the purpose of the Smith bill is to take away the right of women to have abortion coverage in insurance anywhere in America, even women with desperately needed terminations based on medical need.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the redefining of “rape” that’s included in H.R. 3, Cecile Richards.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, this is the most egregious thing and that absolutely has — I think defines the kind of attitude we’re seeing by the House leadership, which is it attempted to say there are only certain kinds of rape that now you would have the right to get an abortion, and that was forcible rape. They wanted to redefine what are good rapes and what are bad rapes. And it has created an enormous public outcry, and I think to the embarrassment of the leadership. But I think it’s just one indication of how far they are willing to go in taking away women’s access to healthcare in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you have to explain that further. Good rapes and bad rapes?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, yes, if it wasn’t considered forcible, if it was simply you were raped, if it was a date rape or other kind of rape that wasn’t considered forcible, where you could demonstrate — I guess it would be up to the rape victim to demonstrate that it was — how forcible it was, you could not have access to abortion coverage as a result of the rape.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting, because we just played in the headlines a group of women, and some men, who are suing around the issue of rape in Iraq, and a videotape —


AMY GOODMAN: — was made of one woman, and her commander saying, looking at the videotape that the men made who were raping her, he didn’t feel that she had fought back hard enough.

CECILE RICHARDS: Exactly. I just saw that, that you had played it. And I think it is incredible to me that at this time in the United States of America, we are talking about going so far back, basically repealing women’s rights in a way that is just unthinkable. And again, I think it’s — as you said earlier, it’s not simply about — it’s not simply about ending Roe v. Wade, which is really the purpose of Mr. Smith and Mr. Boehner, it’s literally taking away the access to birth control in America, which is unbelievable. How did we get here?

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go on to the federal legislation — yes, there are more bills that are being weighed now in Congress.


AMY GOODMAN: The Congress is saying that they are focusing on jobs, jobs, jobs.


AMY GOODMAN: And then I want to talk about the state level and talk about states like, oh, South Dakota. Is it possible that the killing of abortion providers could be considered justifiable homicide? This is what we’re going to take on, as we continue after the break with Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Cecile Richards. She’s president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation’s leading provider of reproductive healthcare and sex education and the country’s largest advocacy organization for women’s health and rights. Let’s talk about H.R. 358, the Protect Life Act. What would that do, Cecile Richards?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I’m sorry, tell me —- the number doesn’t -—

AMY GOODMAN: H.R. 358, Protect Life Act, that would allow hospitals to refuse to provide abortions even when necessary to save a woman’s life.

CECILE RICHARDS: Right. I apologize, I didn’t remember the number. We have — as you know, there is a raft of bills that have now been introduced in Congress, really in the House. And the concern over this bill is what — is allowing hospitals to refuse treatment, even in the case of a woman’s life who needs an abortion. And, of course, this has been — there have been massive expansions of conscience clauses and legislation to allow hospitals and even, of course, pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions. And this is a concern about this bill, that it would allow, if a woman — and as you know, in some communities, you don’t have a lot of hospitals to choose from. And this would — our concern about this bill is it would allow hospitals to refuse life-saving treatment, if a woman needed an abortion, based on conscience. And again, I think this is where the leadership of the House isn’t focusing on women’s health. They are focusing on an ideological agenda, and they don’t understand how this is going to affect real women’s lives. And that’s the story that we’re trying to tell to Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: H.R. 217, the measure which has 122 co-sponsors, called the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, that would ban federal funding for other services to organizations that perform abortions? How would that affect Planned Parenthood, and what does that mean?

CECILE RICHARDS: I know, there’s so many. So, essentially, the other — one of the big goals is to prevent healthcare providers who provide an array of healthcare services — if any of the services they provide include abortions or abortion referrals, they should not be — this bill says they should not be able to get any federal funds for family planning, which, on the face of it, is ridiculous. Right now, as an example, Planned Parenthood is the biggest reproductive healthcare provider in the country. We actually — under the Title X program, which is our nation’s Family Planning Program, we provide more than a third of the clients who come in through the Title X program, we provide them family planning. So this would essentially take Planned Parenthood completely out of that system, as well as any other family planning provider that provided abortion care.

And if I could — you know, to remember, abortion is legal in this country. This is basically taking something that everyone is — that family planning clinics are providing that is a legal service and saying, “If you provide this service, you can no longer provide family planning.” The most ridiculous part about it is that, for Congressman Pence and the others who are proposing these bills, Planned Parenthood does more to prevent unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion than any organization in America. So I don’t really know where they think the millions of women who come to us and other providers are going to go for family planning anymore and what the result will be.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the state level, Cecile, to what is happening in various states. With at least 29 anti-choice governors, the battleground has shifted to the state legislatures. First, talk about what’s happening right now in South Dakota.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I mean, South Dakota is one example of a very egregious bill that speaks to the interference of anyone who was trying to terminate a pregnancy. And it’s a complicated bill, so I don’t want to get into all of the details, but it is a — what we’re seeing in South Dakota — I could list states across the country — are state legislatures who unfortunately are much in the mold now of the leadership of the House of Representatives, who, instead of focusing on the really hard and important issues of the day — about their budgets, their economy — they are using this as an opening, with the sort of the shift to the right in the leadership and in these legislatures to now try to repeal every single — every single right that women have to legal abortion. And they’re focusing, as well, on providers. And the goal is not only to make sure that women don’t have access, but to make sure that doctors are afraid to even provide legal abortions in this country. And that’s really what the South Dakota bill is about.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what is happening in Kansas, Cecile Richards.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I mean, there are so many things happening in Kansas, I don’t even know — I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, we have obviously — in the state of Kansas, we’ve been dealing with very bad legislation for years, for decades. So, I mean, we could talk about these specific states, but I think the important thing, just to sort of bring it back overall, is that what we are seeing — but it’s not just at the state level. I agree with you that there are a lot of problems at the state level, but we are literally seeing the federal government, the U.S. House of Representatives, trying to end birth control access in America. So, I agree that the states are where some of the most egregious state bills are, but it’s much bigger than that. And I think this is — what we are seeing around the country is this unbelievable overreach by the leadership that was elected in November, not focusing on what the people want, but in fact focusing on issues about abortion access, taking away birth control, allowing hospitals to refuse treatment, allowing pharmacists to refuse birth control. This is not what the American people voted for, and I think there’s going to be an enormous political backlash, which we’re already beginning to see at Planned Parenthood, folks coming into our clinics and saying, “I cannot believe I’ve just heard that the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to shut down Planned Parenthood.”

AMY GOODMAN: Cecile Richards, the Republican attack on women’s reproductive rights coincides with the release of this series of undercover videos aimed at discrediting your organization, Planned Parenthood. The campaign has been compared to a similar attack on the community group ACORN in 2008 that relied on deceptively edited videos secretly recorded by James O’Keefe. One undercover recorded video was recorded in New York, appears to show a worker at Planned Parenthood counseling a male client and a young woman on how to get abortions for child prostitutes. It was released by the anti-choice group Live Action, which conducted a sting operation at 12 Planned Parenthood clinics in six states. Can you talk about what this whole video campaign, led by Lila Rose, is all about?

CECILE RICHARDS: Sure. Thanks for asking, Amy. This is — actually, for the past four years, this organization, Live Action, has been going undercover and using this sort of sting operation technique to try to entrap Planned Parenthood clinicians all across the country, then using fake and doctored tapes to try to ruin or damage our reputation. And you’re exactly right. The same folks who trained these people are the ones who trained the folks that were arrested trying to tap the phones of Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, who trained the folks who went in and entrapped ACORN. It’s exactly the same playbook that we’ve seen on the right. And, you know, it is a very deceptive organization. Their tapes cannot be trusted. And they have no interest or any concern about the welfare of young women or women in general. Their whole stated goal is to end legal abortion in America, to overturn Roe, and to put Planned Parenthood out of business. And that’s really — that is really their purpose.

As soon as we saw that there were folks posing as these people, as pimps, as prostitutes, claiming that they were underage, sex-trafficking rings, we reported not only to the local authorities, but we went to the U.S. Attorney General, to General Holder, and said, “A crime may be being committed. We don’t know who these people are, but you need to investigate.” And they’ve been very helpful in doing so.

AMY GOODMAN: While the veracity of the Live Action videos is in serious dispute —- I mean, it’s interesting, Cecile, at the same time, this week, the headline of Shirley Sherrod, who’s suing Andrew Breitbart, because the sequence is very clear. First the videos are made -—


AMY GOODMAN: — heavily edited. They go on Andrew Breitbart’s website. Fox picks them up. And then a huge campaign is launched by Republicans in Congress. That’s what happened with ACORN, and they succeeded in completely destroying the ACORN organization, even though afterwards the General Accountability Office said that —- vindicated ACORN totally, saying that no federal funding was used -—

CECILE RICHARDS: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: — for anything that was nefarious or illegal.

CECILE RICHARDS: You’re absolutely right. This is the same playbook. They’re trying to use it against Planned Parenthood. And it’s not going to work. But it is really unbelievable that an organization that’s been so discredited, like Live Action, that uses fake and doctored tapes, does get the media play that they do. I think that one of the — and it’s clearly being timed at the same time that Congress is dealing —- the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to end access to family planning and trying to end access by Planned Parenthood to federal funds for the programs that we run. So this is all clearly all coordinated. I think the -—

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play —


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play a clip of Congressman Mike Pence, who has used the videos as ammunition to build support for H.R. 217, the bill that would deny federal family planning funds to any organization that performs abortions, including Planned Parenthood.


AMY GOODMAN: Pence spoke about the videos last week on the floor of the House.

REP. MIKE PENCE: It’s a surprise to most Americans to learn that the largest abortion provider in America is also the largest recipient of federal funding under Title X. And it’s heartbreaking news this morning that Planned Parenthood of America has now been the subject of one more undercover video showing someone posing as a pimp being facilitated by employees at Planned Parenthood in how to secure secret abortions, STD testing and contraception for child prostitutes. You know, as a father of two teenage daughters, I see the video that came out this morning, I see the video that came out last week, and it’s an outrage to me. That employees of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country are facilitating the abuse of minor girls in this country should be a scandal to every American. The time has come to deny all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America. I’ve authored the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, which would deny Title X funds to Planned Parenthood or any other abortion provider. And Congress must act, and act now, to move this important legislation.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Gentleman, time has expired.

REP. MIKE PENCE: Pro-life Americans and all Americans should not be forced to subsidize America’s largest abortion provider or to continue to provide —

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: His time has expired.

REP. MIKE PENCE: — federal taxpayer dollars to Title X clinics that engage in this abhorrent behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, your response?

CECILE RICHARDS: Congressman Pence has been trying to end legal abortion in this country, I think, ever since he got into office. Every single year he introduces a bill to try to end funding for Planned Parenthood. He’s simply using — working in cahoots with this discredited organization, Live Action, with faked-up tapes, to try to give fuel to the fire here. And I think the incredible thing — it’s interesting that he refers to his children. I have, of course, three children myself, and I have two daughters. And my concern is about, what about my daughters and the millions of women who currently count on Planned Parenthood, three million patients who come to us every single year for basic family planning and preventive care? Mr. Pence’s interest is not in any of the things he says; he simply wants to end access to women for reproductive healthcare. And I think he should just be straight up about what his purpose is. That’s what this is all about.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I think one of the reasons ACORN went down was because of the lack of support expressed around the country when it happened, a kind of very fast swift-boating of them. What is happening in terms of support around the country? What are you doing, Planned Parenthood Federation of America? I know you held a news conference yesterday. What kind of support are you getting from other groups, even non-family-planning groups?

CECILE RICHARDS: Right. No, it’s a great question. And I have to say, we have been flooded with not only former patients of Planned Parenthood, the current patients, but many organizations, more than 125 national organizations, who have come to our support, both in letters, in press releases. And then, of course, on the Hill yesterday, we had a press conference with members of the House of Representatives. I think we’ll be doing one with the Senate, as well. Because the fact of the matter is, people in this country have a very high opinion of Planned Parenthood. Again, one in five women have been to Planned Parenthood at some point in their lifetime. We are a community institution. And so, we’ve been very encouraged, not only Democratic support, Republican support, all across the country. And I think that also folks in the progressive community saw what happened to ACORN and are really — have taken notice and said, “We will not let this happen to another institution that is so vital to the healthcare of women in America.” So we’ve been very, very encouraged. And I think the truth will out here on Live Action. I think these kinds of deceptive tactics, these kind of faked-up videos, they only work for so long. And I will put our healthcare record up against any organization in America for providing high-quality, affordable care to millions of women who need us.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the very horrifying news out of Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Corbett said on Tuesday a number of state workers have been fired and the state’s abortion clinics will come under greater oversight, following a probe into a Philadelphia clinic where a woman and seven newborn babies were killed. Dr. Kermit Gosnell was arrested last month along with his wife and eight unlicensed employees, a grand jury report accusing Gosnell of regularly and illegally delivering live viable babies in the third trimester, then murdering the newborns by severing their spinal cords. It’s a horrific story.


AMY GOODMAN: Gosnell and his staff are also accused of killing a pregnant mother by providing her with too much anesthesia. The report singling out Pennsylvania’s health and medical regulators for ignoring complaints against the clinic dating back to 1993. Can you talk about your response to this, Cecile Richards?

CECILE RICHARDS: Look, it’s a horrific story, Amy. And I think that what is — in some ways, to me, it really underscores the danger of what’s happening in Congress, which is, what we’re seeing is this attempt to move a legal medical procedure that many women need — abortion — and putting it in the back alley again and putting it — putting folks like Planned Parenthood, who are responsible medical providers — we have the highest-quality staff. We have medical doctors from the most prestigious medical schools. Our doors are open to anyone to come and visit and see exactly what we do. It’s so important that we have providers who will provide women with excellent care who need it. And I think the case in Pennsylvania is just a case in point. My fear is that if the House of Representatives is successful and they put Planned Parenthood completely out of business, which is their goal, we are going to see more stories like this, because we are going to see women who will be desperate to terminate a pregnancy, and they will go anywhere to do it. We cannot go back to those days in America. I think this is a very cautionary tale. My heart breaks for the women in Pennsylvania that were victims in this situation. And that is why we need providers who are reputable, who are first-class providers, who are well known, so that women can go to get the healthcare they need from someone that they can trust.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much, Cecile Richards, for joining us, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation’s leading provider of reproductive healthcare and sex education and the country’s largest advocacy organization for women’s health and rights. Thanks so much for being with us.

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