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Cecile Richards on Attacks on Women’s Health, from Iowa Abortion Ban to Rising Violence at Clinics

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On Friday, Iowa’s governor signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bills. The new law requires any woman seeking an abortion to undergo an abdominal ultrasound. The law bans abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which often occurs at six weeks—before many women even know they are pregnant. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Democratic lawmakers used a filibuster to defeat a Republican abortion ban that would have prohibited as many as 97 percent of abortions in the state. This comes as a federal appeals court ruled last month that an Indiana abortion law signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was the state’s governor in 2016 was unconstitutional. The law restricted a woman’s ability to seek an abortion, including in cases where the child would be born with a disability. For more on the attacks to women’s reproductive rights nationwide, we speak with Cecile Richards, who has just stepped aside as president of Planned Parenthood after 12 years. She’s just published a new memoir, “Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.” In the book, she writes, “For the first time in my life, I’m wondering whether my own daughters will have fewer rights than I’ve had.”

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at the attack on reproductive rights by President Trump and Republican lawmakers in state houses across the country. On Friday, Iowa’s governor signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bills. The new law requires any woman seeking an abortion to undergo an abdominal ultrasound. The law bans abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which often occurs at six weeks—before many women even know they’re pregnant. Iowa’s Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill on Friday.

GOV. KIM REYNOLDS: If death is determined when a heart stops beating, then doesn’t a beating heart indicate life? For me, it’s immoral to stop an innocent beating heart. For me, it’s sickening to sell fetal body parts. And for me, my faith leads me to protect life.

AMY GOODMAN: Under the new law, women who were raped or a victim of incest are exempted, if they reported the crime to authorities. The Iowa ACLU is now suing to block the measure from taking effect July 1st. This is Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokesperson Erin Davison-Rippey.

ERIN DAVISON-RIPPEY: So, functionally, what we’re looking at is a ban on abortion before most women, or many women, know that they are pregnant, around the 6-week mark. And when you look at, you know, when abortions are typically performed, for Planned Parenthood, as a provider, 99 percent of abortions, more than 99 percent of abortions, are performed after the 6-week mark. So this is almost entirely a complete ban on abortion in the state of Iowa.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Democratic lawmakers used a filibuster to defeat a Republican abortion ban that would have prohibited as many as 97 percent of abortions in the state. This comes as a federal appeals court ruled last month that an Indiana abortion law, signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was the state’s governor in 2016, is unconstitutional. The law restricts a woman’s ability to seek an abortion, including in cases where the child would be born with a disability

Well, for more, we’re joined by Cecile Richards. She has just retired as president of Planned Parenthood after 12 years at the helm. And she’s written a new book; it’s titled Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead. In the book, Cecile Richards writes, “For the first time in my life, I’m wondering whether my own daughters will have fewer rights than I’ve had.”

Cecile Richards, welcome back to Democracy Now!, this in your new role as what? A private citizen, an activist.

CECILE RICHARDS: An agitator, right. Just a troublemaker, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to talk about your life, but I want to start with what’s happening right now, these last—

CECILE RICHARDS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —slew of laws. Start with Iowa.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, Iowa, of course, as you just reported, I mean, this is one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country. It’s clearly unconstitutional. The ACLU is suing. Planned Parenthood will sue, as well. But I think it shows that everything that this Congress has not been able to do and the White House couldn’t get through Congress, then they’re now trying to do at the state level. I think the important thing, too, to put it in context, Amy, is that not only are they trying to now ban all abortions, they actually are trying to end sex education for young people in Iowa. They’ve shut down Planned Parenthood health centers, that served about 12,000 women in the state of Iowa. So this isn’t only an attack on abortion rights. It’s an attack on affordable reproductive healthcare for people everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it will ever go into effect, this law? The ACLU has sued. Other laws have been blocked. But explain the logic of this law, the governor reiterating, saying this is a fetal heartbeat bill. When you hear a fetal heartbeat at six weeks, it signifies life.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, she’s—I was actually shocked that she signed this bill. It’s so extreme. And as we know, Iowa, along with every other state, actually believes that women and pregnant people should be able to make their own decisions about pregnancy. I think she’s far in the outstream—you know, out of the mainstream. And she’s obviously playing to a very extreme part of the Republican Party. This is going to have an impact this November. I think that’s what we’re seeing across the country. That’s why women are turning out in droves, because they understand that their rights, as well as affordable healthcare, are under attack all across—all across the country, and that this administration has been leading it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking about addressing the extreme segment of the Republican Party, the Trump administration reports that Kellyanne Conway went President Trump and reminded him about his pledges to abortion foes during the campaign, and now we’re hearing about this gag—potential gag rule. Could you talk about that, what it might signify?

CECILE RICHARDS: Absolutely, and it’s something everyone needs to be on the lookout for. I think we’ll see it sometime in the coming days. Basically, the most extreme ban on information about abortion, as well as access, is what they’re talking about doing. It’s a domestic gag order that would really parallel what’s happening overseas. Women would no longer be able to get information about the legality of abortion, get referral, even mention the word, if a healthcare provider is participating in the family planning program. Planned Parenthood provides more than 40 percent of the family planning through the national family planning program. We would be banned, and women who come to us for healthcare would be banned. It is unbelievably extreme. I can’t believe they’re going to go this far, but that’s the rumor.

AMY GOODMAN: So, have we seen something like this at a global level, and this will be the first time it would be used domestically?

CECILE RICHARDS: That’s correct. In fact, one of the first things, Amy, that this president did was institute or reinstitute the global gag rule, which cut off millions of women across the country from family planning service, maternal healthcare services. Because that’s the thing that is so insidious about this, is that the very healthcare that helps prevent unintended pregnancy, detect cancer, provide women early, early preventive services would now be unavailable for millions of women in this country. Most of them are women with low incomes, many of them women of color, who don’t have other healthcare options.

AMY GOODMAN: But can you explain this further? The gag rule, it’s expected to be handed down any day.

CECILE RICHARDS: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: From what? The White House or HHS?

CECILE RICHARDS: That’s the rumor.

AMY GOODMAN: Something.

CECILE RICHARDS: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Says that their patients could not get information or even mention the word “abortion,” if they serve patients through the Title X program. Explain what that means.

CECILE RICHARDS: Yeah, so the Title X program is the national family program. It was signed into law by a Republican president. It is a bipartisan program. It is the primary way in which women with low incomes actually access birth control. Now, what this government is trying to say is, if a woman comes into a health center that provides services through Title X, she would not be able to get any information about her legal rights about abortion as even an option for her, would not be able to get referred to anyplace that provided abortion services. I’ve never seen anything like this. I mean, this is—this is the most extreme restriction on—in even the doctor-patient relationship and women’s ability to get life-saving information from their healthcare provider.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of some of the policies the Trump administration has already implemented to deny women’s basic rights, things like eliminating protections for survivors of sexual assault, trying to eliminate the teen pregnancy prevention program, what have they already done?

CECILE RICHARDS: Oh, well, I mean, it would take us hours to actually go through all the things they’ve already done. But I do think, in this area of women’s health and affordable healthcare, it’s really important. Not only are they trying to make abortion now impossible to get, safe and legal abortion, they are also trying to end the family planning program. They’ve also tried to end the sex education program. Planned Parenthood just sued and got an injunction on that. And then, of course, we saw, during the efforts to pass Trumpcare, they were trying to get rid of maternity benefits for women. So, basically, if you’re a woman in this country trying to get access to affordable healthcare, you’ve never had a worse president than Donald Trump and this administration.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the National Abortion Federation reported that in 2017 trespassing at clinics more than tripled, and death threats, threats of harm, nearly doubled. This is a clip from the Rewire documentary Care in Chaos, that chronicles the rising tide of harassment and violence against abortion providers and clinics under the Trump administration. This is abortion clinic administrator Calla Hales in North Carolina.

CALLA HALES: I try not to focus on the history of assassinations of doctors and attacks on doctors and clinic workers in the past. If I focused on that every day, I wouldn’t get out of bed. And I have to keep moving forward. This clinic has to stay open.

ANTE PAVKOVIC: They kill babies. They poison them. They dismember them. And then they say, as they wipe their bloody hands across their lying mouths, “We’ve done no evil. We’ve done nothing wrong. We’re helping people by murdering their offspring. We’re helping people by killing little baby boys and girls.”

CALLA HALES: It really does upset a lot of patients to be able to hear people yelling and screaming and calling them names on amplification, while you’re in the back of a building that’s 200 feet away and there’s layers of concrete and wood between you.

AMY GOODMAN: That from the Rewire documentary. Cecile Richards, the threat that abortion providers are finding now increasing, not decreasing. And we know how many doctors, nurses, security guards have been killed or wounded, attempting simply to ensure women’s healthcare.

CECILE RICHARDS: Right. No, it’s very serious and, again, why what you played, in terms of the governor of Iowa, the way in which she discusses and talks about women who have abortions, this kind of shame and stigma coming from elected officials, is very dangerous. One of the things, though, I also wanted to point out, Amy, at this point, in which they’re trying—this government is trying to restrict women’s access to healthcare, we are actually at a record low for teenage pregnancy in the U.S. We’re at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy, and actually the lowest rate of abortion since Roe was decided, because people are getting better access to healthcare, did under Obamacare. So, ironically, every single thing this administration is doing is going to take away the progress that women have been making.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk, as well, about the—last month, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional legislation passed in Indiana under Mike Pence, in terms—could you explain the significance of this, as well?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I think it is important, I mean, that, one, yes, the federal court system has been sort of the place that we’re able to go, in general, to protect against laws that are unconstitutional, like the one in Indiana, like the one in Iowa, which is clearly unconstitutional. Of course, the danger is, we now have an administration that is rapidly filling up the federal court system with lifetime appointees who are completely opposed to women’s rights. So I think it’s important to recognize we have to fight these issues on the ground, as well, not only in the court system. And I think for anyone who isn’t aware, they need to know that Mike Pence, vice president now, Mike Pence, has been an advocate for getting rid of Planned Parenthood, getting rid of women’s access to productive healthcare, his entire career. And so, this isn’t something that’s simply being driven by Congress or by the president. This is the agenda of the vice president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And I have to ask you about this latest news, that just broke in the last hours, Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, well known as a women’s rights advocate, playing a very significant role as the New York attorney general, having to resign amidst allegations of one woman after another, four so far, that he assaulted them, that he abused them.

CECILE RICHARDS: Yeah, incredibly shocking. Incredibly shocking. And, I mean, I really appreciate the bravery of these women, of coming forward. That, I can’t imagine how hard that was to do. But that’s what it’s taking now. And I’m glad to see women supporting women across the country to tell their stories. And I think the same accountability should be held to people in office all across the board, to the highest levels of government, if you will.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, interestingly, Kellyanne Conway just tweeted, “Gotcha.”

CECILE RICHARDS: Right. Well, she needs to look at who she works for.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of women coming forward, we’ve gotten reports now of some more than 500—527 women, as of April, stepping forward to run for the House of Representatives or the Senate.

CECILE RICHARDS: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your sense of this growing involvement of women in politics directly?

CECILE RICHARDS: I mean, women are shaking the foundation of this country in every way—culturally, politically and economically. And, you know, I’ve been on this book tour, and it’s more like a revival than a book tour, in that women are just coming out. They want to get involved. Some of them are running for office. Some of them are starting organizations. Women are literally—you know, they’re calling Congress. They’re marching. And then, most importantly, of course, they’ve got to vote this November, because if women vote in November, we will change the direction of the country politically.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we’re asking you what your plans are, what office you’ll be running for. Cecile Richards has just retired from serving as Planned Parenthood Federation of America president and head of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She’s been there since 2006. And she’s traveling the country. Tonight she’ll be at the 92nd Street Y in New York with Jessica Williams. And then she’s headed to Nashville and beyond, with her new book, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead. Stay with us.

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“Make Trouble”: Cecile Richards on Her Life Story, Reproductive Rights & Women-Led Activism

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