Planned Parenthood President and CEO Cecile Richards is traveling around Iowa this weekend in support of Hillary Clinton, who the Planned Parenthood Action Fund has endorsed. She’s hitting up a number of house parties and Clinton field offices to meet volunteers, supporters and undecided Iowans to persuade them on Clinton’s record of women’s healthcare access and rights.
Starting Line sat down with Richards Saturday morning for an interview about her message on Clinton. The following has been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.
Describe what America looks like in 10 years for women’s healthcare if Ted Cruz or Donald Trump gets elected and appoints several Supreme Court justices.
If, God forbid, either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump became President, the concern for me and millions of other parents around the country is that our daughters and granddaughters would have fewer rights than we have. Certainly every position they’ve taken on women’s healthcare access would take us back to the 1950’s, although some folks say to the 1890’s. They have committed to ending access to Planned Parenthood, all kinds of healthcare. They’re committed to overturning Roe, and ending safe and legal abortion in America.
Their attacks on basic access to birth control, including repealing the Affordable Care Act, would devastate millions of women who are currently able to help plan their families, stay in school and support their children. It’s a pretty frightening prospect. And I think the stakes in this election, unlike in any presidential election I can remember, is extremely high. Because of the Supreme Court, but also because of the extreme statements and records of the leading Republicans in the presidential race.
It’s the closing week here in Iowa, with Sanders catching up in momentum. What’s your closing pitch for Hillary?
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, after several months of interviews and deliberations, decided to endorse Secretary Clinton because of her unparalleled record of standing for women and families over her entire career. We have a lot of friends in this race, and we’re grateful for their support, but given what women are facing, given the prospect of the kind of agenda laid out by Republicans, it’s critical that we have not just a good voice or a good vote, we need a fighter in the White House. We need someone to build on the soon-to-be legacy of eight years of President Obama when we’ve made extraordinary gains for women’s health.
With your family background, how have you seen the culture of government change when a woman is in charge for the first time?
My mom, Ann Richards, governor of Texas for four years, that really changed the face of government in the state for at least her term, in that there were more women, people of color, more LGBT folks who finally got positions of authority, opportunity to serve in government. It really completely changed Texas government. That I think is one of her most lasting legacies.
What I see now in my work around the country and now in Washington, in particular in fighting for women’s healthcare access, the difference in having women in the United States Senate is incalculable. In some ways, women of both parties. People pointed to many places where the gridlock was only broken because women came together, Republican and Democratic women, to make progress. I think it’s certainly time for a woman president, and not just any woman president, and we’ve never had an opportunity to support a woman with her incredible qualifications and commitment on the issues.
If Hillary is not elected this time, is there a risk it could be a long time until we elect a female president?
It’s never going to be the same again. Everything she’s done in her life has been really extraordinary, from her early days as an attorney for the Childrens Defense Fund, to working to get children’s health insurance program implemented, to her work as Secretary of State. It’s going to be hard to find any candidate – male or female – that can compare to her record. But I think she is forging a path.
What I see, it’s still tough, there is an enormous double standard for women and frankly even women’s organizations in politics. I’m happy to see people calling out the blatant sexism with her candidacy. She’ll not only make it better for other women to run for whatever office, but she, much like my mother, takes an enormous joy and pride in success of other women. It’s not about Hillary Clinton, it’s about bringing in a whole new generation of young women leaders who might have never run for office or served.
The other day Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List put out a column in which she hit Bernie Sanders for treating women’s health as a side issue. Is there a litmus test now in the pro-choice movement that not only do you have to support women’s health access, but it has to be your top one or two issues?
There’s absolutely no litmus test. I do think we have a lot of folks who are supportive of women’s health issues, but there is a real difference with people who are real champions and lead. When Secretary Clinton was in the United States Senate, she introduced eight separate bills to advance access to healthcare to women and families. That’s eight more than anyone running for president. That’s the difference between a solid vote and good statements and actually championing and making things happen.
One of the things I think is important – to some extent the political prognosticators like to play these games – Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Action Fund is in this fight and in this campaign for the millions of women we serve every day. They don’t have the luxury of being involved in some sort of political gamesmanship. Because what they need is healthcare. We’ve been through a year, and some would say more like a decade, of politicians trying to keep women from everything from safe and legal abortion to access to breast cancer screening. It has been the worst assault I’ve ever seen. It’s not the time to play politics because the women who are counting on us expect more and they deserve more.
I’ve been to many Clinton events where the audience is overwhelmingly women. While that’s good in that there’s a lot of enthusiasm among women, you also have to figure there’s more men in town. Aside from the issues that speak directly to a person’s identity, what in Hillary Clinton’s message is the broad appeal that speaks to men as well?
Her entire life she has been focused on average Americans getting ahead, and that includes families and men and women and young people. She is not a newcomer to the thought that when everyone is given a chance, this country moves forward. Whether it is addressing the affordability of health care, the affordability of higher education, employment. I find that not only her statements but her record is actually completely focused on that. Not only being intellectual, highfalutin’ ideas, but actually making progress. That’s what I’m hearing from people around Iowa and the country. You can have these great ideas, but what people need is progress. They need things to change.
Outside the lights of the media, what is Hillary Clinton like on a personal level?
One of the things I’ll never forget is when my mother died 10 years ago, Hillary came and eulogized her in the state. Obviously it meant a lot to me personally, and the people of Texas, but that showed to me she passionately cares about people. She’s been a public servant her entire life. That’s what I feel when I’m with her. She’s never been in any of this for the limelight or whatever supposed glamour may be of being in politics. She’s a public servant and she’ll be an incredible president.
by Pat Rynard