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

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From the massive Women’s March against President Trump’s inauguration, to the wave of teachers’ strikes sweeping across red states nationwide, to the #MeToo movement, women have been at the forefront of rising political and social mobilizations challenging the Trump administration’s agenda and the entrenched gender-based violence and white supremacy in U.S. society. For more, 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.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. And we’re joined by Texas-born Cecile Richards. She has just stepped aside as president of Planned Parenthood Federation and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She had been there at the helm for 12 years—her new memoir, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead—on a revival tour across the country.

So, you were born, Cecile, in Waco, Texas. You’ve just left Planned Parenthood. Are you planning to run for office?

CECILE RICHARDS: I don’t have any plans to run for office. But I have been an agitator and a troublemaker and organizer my whole life. And I am keenly focused on making sure that every woman in this country is registered to vote, is activated, and votes this November and beyond, because I do think this is the best opportunity we’ve ever had to make serious social change.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, you’re the daughter of Ann Richards, an icon in the Texas Democratic Party, national Democratic Party, former governor of Texas. The influence that your mother and her career had on your own life?

CECILE RICHARDS: Oh, tremendous, and not only my life, but women everywhere. I still run into women who say, “I got into public office,” or “I ran for office,” or whatever they’re doing now, in large part because of Mom. And I think—in a funny way, I think there are parallels, because Mom was never supposed to win. You know, she was a liberal woman, divorced woman, in Texas, if you will. And she won because the grassroots outpouring of teachers and union folks and LGBT people and farmworkers, you name it, was so overwhelming, we won that day. I think that’s what we’re looking at in this country. I’ve never seen more organizing happening, more excitement and folks finally realizing that who we elect to office has an enormous influence on what happens in our lives.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you mention the teachers that supported your mother, we’re seeing this enormous spread of strikes in the red states—

CECILE RICHARDS: That’s right.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —of the United States. And the teachers of America are largely women. So the reality is that this is a mass movement of women workers standing up in red states.

CECILE RICHARDS: Everywhere. No, everywhere. In fact, I was just in Arizona and—to speak at Planned Parenthood. But the teachers, of course, there have been on strike. They had 75,000 people out in the streets. And as you say, 75 percent of these teachers are women. They’re fighting not only for themselves and for equitable pay and a living wage, but they’re fighting for their pupils. And it is incredible to me that women across this country are leading the fight for public education at a time that Washington is silent.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your mother served as governor of Texas from ’91 to ’95, before George W. Bush.


AMY GOODMAN: In 2003, she was asked by James Henson of the Texas Politics Project about whether she felt her many years of work on the issue of women’s rights had been successful.

ANN RICHARDS: There’s no question that the very fact that young women have the same opportunity in college, that they have a chance to play sports because of Title IX, that they have the right to terminate a pregnancy that doesn’t make sense in their life or for the life of a child, the fact that we have equal opportunity in the workplace—all those things would never have happened if those of us who were participants of the women’s movement had not been there and fought so hard.

JAMES HENSON: You sound satisfied.

ANN RICHARDS: Oh, I’m hardly satisfied. I’m outraged, most of the time, at how the progress seems to stall, how difficult it is for young people to realize that their very freedoms are in jeopardy if they’re not willing to fight for them. But you also have to look back and accept and be pleased that things have changed. My grandmother, during a period of her life, did not have the right to vote. The law in Texas was that idiots, imbeciles, the insane and women could not vote. And less than one generation later, I was the governor of Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ann Richards. Yep, she was the governor of Texas. And we’re joined by her daughter, Cecile Richards, who traveled that road with her, through success and through losing, as well. And what she taught you and what you went on to do, how did you come to be head of Planned Parenthood? You almost didn’t apply for that job.

CECILE RICHARDS: No, it’s right. Well, I think, like a lot of other women, I—you know, when I was called to interview for the job, I had all my own self-doubts. I didn’t think I was qualified. I had never done anything that big. I almost canceled the interview. And then, of course, I did what any grown woman would do: I called my mom. And she said, “Are you kidding me, Cecile? This is the most important organization for women and women’s health in the country.” And thank goodness she told me to go to the interview.

But she was a big believer in women, and that women, you know, we always discounted ourselves, we were always waiting for the perfect moment, we were always waiting to be asked. And her message was always “Don’t wait for someone else to ask you. Don’t wait for instructions. And for goodness’ sake, start before you’re ready.” And, you know, I have taken that to heart. And I think—you know, I’m sorry she’s not here to see today, the fact that so many women, record numbers of women, are jumping in, running for office, getting involved, even if they don’t think they’re ready.

AMY GOODMAN: You had a meeting, as head of Planned Parenthood, with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how that meeting took place, where you met and what they had to say.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I had—this was right after the inauguration. Of course, we had had the Women’s March, which was historic, you know, largest marches in recorded history. And I got a message that Ivanka wanted to talk about Planned Parenthood. And, of course, I knew that the president had said he was going to defund us. And as skeptical as I was about meeting, I thought if there were any opportunity to explain exactly what we do, the important healthcare we provide to millions of people, that I had to take the chance. When I found that she was bringing her husband, Jared Kushner, I convinced my husband Kirk to come along with me. And we met out at a golf course, some golf course that the president owns in New Jersey.

And there, Jared Kushner really laid out his proposal, his deal, I guess. And he said, “Look, the Republicans control everything. We’ve got the White House, we’ve got Congress. You have nothing. You know, you have no bargaining power here.” And essentially what he wanted me to do was to say that if Planned Parenthood would quit providing abortion services to women in the country, he would talk to Speaker Paul Ryan to try to assure our funding and maybe even get us more funding. And that was the—that was sort of the extent of it. And, of course, I said, “That is not ever going to happen. Planned Parenthood is never going to trade off women’s rights or women’s ability to make their own decisions about their pregnancy for money.” He went back at it. And Ivanka was—you know, said, “Well, you have to understand, my father is pro-life.” And I said, “Well, that’s—you know, he is entitled to his own opinion. He does not have the right to take away this right from every single woman in America.” And that was kind of it. And we all went our separate ways.

And I guess what I would point out is, even though the Republicans controlled Congress, control the White House, there was a mass mobilization over the last year and a half by people who supported Planned Parenthood, and we defeated that effort to defund Planned Parenthood. And I’m proud to say our doors are still open all across the United States of America. But that’s why we have to organize. That’s why we have to mobilize. That’s why we have to get people to vote this November.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and in that vein, your book, Make Trouble, you talk about it not as a memoir but as a call to action.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s the action that you feel necessary at this stage?

CECILE RICHARDS: The action is, whatever you’re doing, if you’re not scaring yourself, you need to be doing more. This is not a moment to wait and think someone else is going to take care of this problem. And the encouraging thing to me is, we are seeing women in unprecedented numbers now taking action. I think the last poll I saw said 20 percent of Americans in the last year have marched or protested or done something. That’s historic. Even in the fight to protect Obamacare and Planned Parenthood access, one of the estimates was that 85 percent of the phone calls to Congress were coming from women. So, women are on the move. And I know you’re talking to some soon out in Colorado. Everywhere I go, women are taking action and doing more than they ever thought they could, because the future is at stake, and they are feeling empowered.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another clip of you. This is before Trump was elected. But I did want to ask: Did Ivanka say anything, though she had called you to the meeting?

CECILE RICHARDS: Very little, except that she was disappointed that I hadn’t said nice things about her father during the election, since he had praised the work of Planned Parenthood. And I said, “Well, I did say at least he understood the important work we did. But in the same breath, he said he was going to defund us, so it didn’t seem like there was much room for a compliment there.”

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go back to 2015. This was between Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah, then the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and you, Cecile Richards, then-president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Chaffetz tries to present a slide that he claims is from Planned Parenthood’s data, showing an increase in abortions and a decrease in cancer screenings.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: You don’t do mammograms, correct?


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: There’s like one or two places that does it, but—


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: —you don’t do mammograms.

CECILE RICHARDS: If you would give me one moment to explain—


CECILE RICHARDS: Planned Parenthood is a women’s health center, just like every—where I go for my breast exams every year. If you need a mammogram, you’re referred to a radiological center, and that’s how women actually receive their care. And we provide breast exams to—I could get you the numbers of how many hundreds of thousands of women received breast exams at Planned Parenthood last year, has nothing to do with—I don’t—again—

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Here’s the problem.

CECILE RICHARDS: You created this slide.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Last thing—I’m trying to wrap up.

CECILE RICHARDS: I have no idea what it is.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Well, it’s the reduction, over the course of years, in pink. That’s the reduction in the breast exams, and the red is the increase in the abortions.

CECILE RICHARDS: This is—this—

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: That’s what’s going on in your organization.

CECILE RICHARDS: This is a slide that has never been shown to me before. I’m happy to look at it. And—but it absolutely does not reflect what’s happening at Planned Parenthood.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: You’re going to deny that if we take those numbers out of your report—

CECILE RICHARDS: I’m going to deny the slide that you’ve just shown me that no one has ever provided us before. We have provided you all the information about everything, all the services that Planned Parenthood provides. And doesn’t feel like we’re trying to get to the truth here. You just showed me this. I’m happy to look at it.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: I pulled those numbers directly out of your corporate reports. My time has expired.

CECILE RICHARDS: Oh, excuse me, my lawyer is informing me that the source of this is actually Americans United for Life, which is an anti-abortion group, so I would check your source.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Jason Chaffetz questioning you. This was a grueling, 5-hour hearing with you as president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. I think, before the Trump administration, you were the one to continually talk about fake news. How faked was this?

CECILE RICHARDS: Oh, everything—I mean, it wasn’t a hearing, Amy. I thought it was going to be a hearing, so I was prepared with the facts. But it wasn’t. It was actually an effort to embarrass me or embarrass Planned Parenthood on national television. But they were completely unable to do that, in my opinion. In fact, they interrupted me. They wouldn’t let me answer. At one point my son texted me; he said, “Mom, you’re doing such a great job. I think raising me all those years really helped you prepare for these guys.”

At the end of the day, in fact, not only was Planned Parenthood completely found—you know, there was no wrongdoing. The perpetrators of the scam were indicted on 15 counts. And frankly, the popularity of Planned Parenthood went up. And today, after all the attacks by this administration, this Congress—Jason Chaffetz, of course, now retired—Planned Parenthood is more popular than ever. In Fox News’ own most recent poll, we were the most popular organization in this country. Our membership has swelled. We are now actually more than twice the size of the National Rifle Association. And that’s what’s important to me, is that now, going into the future, it is ensuring that every person who’s ever relied on Planned Parenthood for healthcare is mobilized, is active and is voting in the elections.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of going into the future, what’s the future for Cecile Richards, in terms—are you going to run for political office?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, never say never, but that’s not my plan right now. I’m going around the country talking about my book, but also talking to women. I think women are, again, the most important political force in the country. We saw African-American women really lead in getting a new senator elected in Alabama. We’ve seen women winning historic races in Virginia, in Wisconsin, in Texas even, my home state, first two Latina congresswomen likely to come to Congress in November. To me, this is an opportunity for, finally, women to get political equity in America. And I’d love to be part of making that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: An interesting conversation to have on this primary day in a number of states, like West Virginia.

CECILE RICHARDS: Yes, that’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Cecile Richards, thank you so much for joining us. Cecile has recently stepped aside as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Her new memoir, which she’s traveling the country with—again, tonight she’ll be with Jessica Williams at the 92nd Street Y in New York, and then on to Nashville. And where from Nashville?

CECILE RICHARDS: Yeah, actually, then we go to Chappaqua, and, you know, really pretty much going everywhere in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going back to Waco, where you were born? Is it true that a clinic was just founded there?

CECILE RICHARDS: So proud that in Waco, Texas, we just opened a brand-new Planned Parenthood health center. And it’s exciting to see, across the country, Planned Parenthood’s resilience and our ability to continue to provide services no matter what.

AMY GOODMAN: Cecile Richards, premier troublemaker. Her book, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.

When we come back, we’ll speak with journalists from The Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera. They’ve been fired. They’ve resigned. And some of them today are protesting outside a hedge fund, the Alden Capital fund, here in New York. Find out why.

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