- Cecile Richardspresident of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Republicans continue to seek the erosion of reproductive rights with a series of measures at the federal and state level. Last week the Republican-controlled House approved a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks. The vote came months after Republicans were forced to withdraw their initial version following dissent from women in their own party. The new revised measure drops a requirement that rape and incest survivors who seek an exemption must first report to police. But it instead imposes a mandatory waiting period for such women of at least 48 hours before they can have an abortion. The so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is based on the medically debunked contention that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Its passage in the House is seen as largely symbolic, with Senate Democrats opposed and a previous veto threat from President Obama. But it shows Republicans remain determined to advance an anti-choice agenda on the national level as they do so in the states. According to The New York Times, 11 states have passed at least 37 new anti-abortion laws in the first five months of this year. We are joined by Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin with the latest on the erosion of reproductive rights in the United States. Last week, the Republican-controlled House approved a measure that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks. The vote came months after Republicans were forced to withdraw their initial version following dissent from women in their own party. The new revised measure drops a requirement that rape and incest survivors who seek an exemption must first report to police. But it instead imposes a mandatory waiting period for such women of at least 48 hours before they can have an abortion. Abortion providers would also have to report any cases involving minors to authorities. And providers who fail to comply would be at greater risk of legal action.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Democratic Congressmember Jackie Speier donned a white medical coat to accuse Republicans of infringing on women’s health. She also spoke in personal terms about her own two abortions.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER: I am just so perplexed by our willingness, every time an abortion issue is brought up, that we don the equivalent of a white coat. We believe that we are doctors in this august body, that we should be making decisions on behalf of women who are pregnant and their spouses and their physicians, that we know better than everyone else.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me say this: I have had two abortions. One was at 10 weeks, when the fetus no longer had a heartbeat. And I was told, “Well, you should—you’re going to have to wait a few days before you—before you have that DNC.” A DNC is an abortion. And I said, “I can’t—I am in so much pain, I have just lost this baby that I wanted, and you’re going to make me carry around a dead fetus for two days?” And I finally got that DNC in time. At 17 weeks, I lost another baby. It was an extraordinarily painful experience. It was an abortion. Women who go through these experiences go through them with so much pain and anguish. And here we are, as members of this body, trying to don another white coat.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s California Democratic Congressmember Jackie Speier.
The so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is based on the medically debunked contention that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Its passage in the House is seen as largely symbolic, with Senate Democrats opposed and a previous veto threat from President Obama. But it shows Republicans remain determined to advance an anti-choice agenda on the national level, as they do so in the states. In Tennessee, Republican Governor Bill Haslam has signed a measure requiring patients seeking abortions to make two trips to a clinic and wait 48 hours after an initial in-person meeting with a doctor. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a 72-hour waiting period into law recently. And North Carolina is poised to enact a similar measure. According to The New York Times, 11 states have passed at least 37 new anti-choice laws in the first five months of this year.
For more, we’re joined by Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Cecile.
CECILE RICHARDS: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s start with Congress and the significance of this vote.
CECILE RICHARDS: Well, of course, in the first—just this year, 29 different abortion measures have been dealt with in Congress. Their focus is completely on restricting abortion access. And I think what you heard from Congresswoman Speier is so important, that instead of showing empathy for women and trying to provide them the best medical care, instead they are passing more and more restrictions to simply not allow doctors to make the best medical decisions for their patients and to shame women.
AMY GOODMAN: And so what happens next? It passes in the House.
CECILE RICHARDS: Passes in the House. We believe there are the votes in the Senate to block this, and certainly the president has opposed this legislation, so—but I think there are two things. One is, it sends a message, a chilling message to women and doctors, that Congress is ready to intervene in the most personal, private medical decisions that women make. And it also distracts Congress, frankly, from focusing on things that the American people care more about.
AMY GOODMAN: So, 99 percent of abortions are done before 21 weeks?
CECILE RICHARDS: That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about this 1 percent.
CECILE RICHARDS: It’s very rare. And as the doctors who have testified and women who have talked about their own experiences, this is usually a situation where you have a very much wanted pregnancy go wrong and where doctors and women and their families need the best medical care possible. And these kinds of restrictions—again, we’re seeing junk science used to pass bad bills against abortion access. We’re seeing all kinds of restrictions that do nothing to help the health or safety of women and families, but in fact allow politicians to play doctor.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Republican congressmembers, what they did in the House?
CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I mean, the interesting thing, of course, is a similar bill was pulled down a few months ago, when there were some members of the Republican caucus who—women, in particular—who objected to the bill. But frankly, what just passed was as bad, if not worse. And I think it shows that no matter what, Congress is completely focused—rather than focusing on the economy or jobs or education or all the other issues that you covered in your first segment, they are completely focused on restricting women’s access to safe and legal abortion.
AMY GOODMAN: Planned Parenthood Action Fund posted on its website the true stories of three women who had to consider the decision to end their pregnancies after 20 weeks. This is Julie’s story.
JULIE B.: We really wanted to have a sibling for our son. We had routine doctor’s visits and went for the scan, and they were able to see aspects of the brain that were very malformed. We both just started to sob. We just stood there and held each other and just sobbed. So, in all of the story I’ve told you, never once did I say, “Well, I went up to my legislature, and I asked them, you know, could they give me a sonogram?” Never once did I say, “Oh, I went to Congress and, you know, met with my representative so that I could get his or her medical advice,” because they’re politicians. This has nothing to do with politics. This has to do with the choices that my husband and I needed to make.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Julie’s story. Cecile Richards?
CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I mean, we are hearing from women all across the country. And it’s amazing to me, Amy, to see the courage of women—Congresswoman Speier is a good example, but so is the woman who you just saw—the courage to tell their own stories, if it can help prevent legislators and politicians from intervening in these really personal decisions between women and their doctors.
AMY GOODMAN: So we’re talking about the federal level.
CECILE RICHARDS: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: What about states?
CECILE RICHARDS: Well, the states, it’s really worse. And we have seen record numbers of bills introduced all across the country, but not only 20-week bans, that we talked about in what’s happening in Congress, but restrictions on abortion providers, waiting periods for women as if they can’t make their own decisions without the intervention of politicians. And it’s very, very difficult. I think we’re really seeing the results of the midterm elections. In some states where women had very good access to abortion services, we’re seeing more and more restrictions passed daily.
AMY GOODMAN: And at the federal level, at this national bill, what happens to a woman who’s a victim of rape or incest?
CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I mean, there are restrictions, I think, as you mentioned. Women have to be counseled. In some cases, they have to wait 48 hours and, in fact, go to two medical providers, which has nothing to do with, you know, any medical necessity. So, again, what you’re seeing is, one, a shaming of women that are in these very difficult circumstances, and also you’re seeing a real chilling effect on doctors willing to provide the best medical care for women.
AMY GOODMAN: That issue of the waiting period, I don’t know if people quite understand what it means. Why is this so significant—24 hours, 48 hours, sometimes now 72 hours, three days?
CECILE RICHARDS: Right, absolutely. Well, I mean, Texas is a good example, where it’s not only the waiting period, it’s the combination of now shutting down dozens of healthcare centers or abortion providers in the state, so that women now have to drive hundreds of miles to get to an abortion provider, then find a way to stay overnight, maybe take days off of work. And really, the worst about this, Amy, is it’s hitting women who are low-income, are sometimes single parents. This is—it’s the hardest on women who have the least access to healthcare as it is.
AMY GOODMAN: In Texas, your home state, women might have to have a government-issued ID?
CECILE RICHARDS: Absolutely. And, I mean, Texas, you thought—we thought things couldn’t get worse. Already, dozens of healthcare providers have shut down in the state. Women are completely—can be hundreds of miles, if they live in the Rio Grande border area or in West Texas. But now the state of Texas is even going further and debating a bill that would—or a budget that would remove women’s ability to come to Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings. In some areas of the state, we’re the only provider of these services, through the state program. But so, this is really—I mean, I think the important thing is, none of this is about the health and safety of women. It’s all about politics.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think your mother would say, the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards?
CECILE RICHARDS: Horrified, horrified. It is really incredible to see the extent in which legislators are now willing to get in between women and medical care—again, not only abortion services, birth control, cancer screenings and the like.
AMY GOODMAN: Republican Congressmember Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee was among those who voted last week for the bill banning post-20-week abortions. However, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that Congressman DesJarlais previously supported his ex-wife’s decision to have two abortions. DesJarlais, a former physician, had carried on multiple relationships with patients, co-workers and a drug company representative, leading to the couple’s divorce. According to the divorce paper, the congressman also encouraged one of his paramours, a patient 24 years his junior, to get an abortion. Cecile Richards?
CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I mean, I won’t even go into the hypocrisy of so many of the folks that are passing these bills. What I do want—I hate for folks to leave with the impression, though, that no one’s doing anything, because Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Action Fund and our eight million supporters across the country are fighting back. I think it’s so important that we are having record numbers of young people involved in activism. Just cut the ribbon on a brand new health center in Asheville, North Carolina, where we’ll be able to provide abortion services for the first time; Queens, New York, yesterday. So I—and we just poured concrete, as we say in the South, in New Orleans, Louisiana, where we’ll be opening up a center there. So I think it’s really important, despite the politicians’ efforts—I think it’s important to recognize that people across the country are standing up and actually doing something.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, insurance.
CECILE RICHARDS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s happening with insurance coverage of both contraception and issues like abortion?
CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I think the most important development in the last 10 days is the ruling by HHS that in fact all methods of birth control, all 18 FDA-approved methods of birth control, now are covered under insurance plans at no co-pay. And that’s really a revolutionary change for women. We’re seeing record lows of teen pregnancy in this country, and it’s because young people and women are getting better access to contraceptives. And that’s all because of the ACA.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, June 7th is the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut. How important was that?
CECILE RICHARDS: That was—I mean, that was the case, of course, that legalized birth control, for married couples at the time. Now, of course, it’s legal for everyone. But the approval of birth control and the legalization of birth control has changed everything about women’s lives and their ability to finish school if they want to, have a career, maybe even be president of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Cecile Richards is president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Are you thinking of higher office, speaking of president of the United States?
CECILE RICHARDS: I have a pretty high office as it is. I’m really proud of the work Planned Parenthood is doing. And it’s never been more important.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, President Richards, thanks so much for joining us.
CECILE RICHARDS: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.