Cecile Richards has a responsibility as a mom of three (now-adult) children ... but, as the president of Planned Parenthood, she also has an immense responsibility to millions of women across America -- women who need and deserve access to affordable and high-quality health care; women who want to raise children and plan families; and women who don't want to become moms again or at all. She is fighting for those fundamental rights and the choices that every woman should be able to make for herself, and she has famously taken that fight to the United States House of Representatives. She was influenced by her own mother, a former governor of Texas -- and she is passing on her spirit for social justice and public service (as well as the skills to bake a pie crust from scratch!) to her children. She strives to be a role model for her kids -- and she's achieved that with us, as we name her one of CafeMom's #MomsWhoInspire.
Richards, who has been at the helm of Planned Parenthood since 2006, is certainly an inspiration for the one in five women in America who she says have depended upon Planned Parenthood at some point for health care and reproductive freedom. "Our motto is care, no matter what -- and that means for everyone," she explains to CafeMom of the organization that has provided life-saving services to so many, yet unfortunately remains a pawn in today's political climate. "If women were no longer able to access health care at Planned Parenthood or other affordable health care providers, they would be less able to control when, how often, and whether or not they’d like to mother. At Planned Parenthood we believe that all women should be able to make these decisions for themselves."
In the following interview, Richards tells CafeMom about decisions she made in planning her own family, empowering her children, and taking on the daunting task of ensuring that women across the country can control their own reproductive health -- a position that she describes as "a true honor." We'll stand with her and with Planned Parenthood in that mission.
How did you come to be the president of Planned Parenthood?
I've always been an activist, starting even back in high school. Right out of college I started working with women earning minimum wage in hotels, garment factories, and nursing homes. They were organizing to get better wages and working conditions, and they were the hardest-working people I've ever known. When I was approached with the opportunity to become president of Planned Parenthood, it was a chance to work with an organization that provides opportunity to millions of people each year.
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Was advocating for women's health something that you were always interested in?
Growing up in Texas, we were raised to believe in public service and activism. My mother and father were involved in the civil rights movement and eventually my mom [Ann Richards] was elected governor of Texas. My dad was out on the front lines defending conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War. He was fighting for the rights of farm workers, doing things that were completely unpopular. Other families bowled; we did politics.
I've always been interested in social justice, and there is no more fundamental injustice than the lack of access to health care. My parents taught me from a young age the importance of speaking up and standing up for what you believe in, and as a woman and a mother I have always believed that all women, regardless of where they live or who they are, deserve access to high-quality affordable health care. I'm so proud of Planned Parenthood and that we are always on the front lines of making sure everyone can exercise their right to health care.
What is one piece of advice from your mom that will always stick with you?
She encouraged me to take this job at Planned Parenthood. Mom had a lot of good advice, but the most memorable for me was that public service was a noble calling.
She told me, "You could go somewhere else and make a lot of money, perhaps with less stress. But you will never have the kind of reward you get when someone looks you in the eye and says, 'Thank you for making my life better.'"
I am so honored to feel that gratitude from our patients, supporters, volunteers, and staff every single day at Planned Parenthood.
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How have you influenced your own three children?
Well, it's nice to see that the need to stand up for what you believe in has rubbed off on them, as well. It's in their blood. Seeing them become their own people and advance in their careers, and engage in politics in their own a way, has been incredibly inspiring; I turn to them for advice now.
How have you balanced motherhood and work, especially given your high-profile role?
Thankfully, my husband and I made the smart decision to live in New York City, so it's easy for our kids to find an excuse to come visit us. I have the good fortune of being able to travel quite a bit for my job, so I try to visit them when I'm nearby.
My kids are a bit older now, so it's gotten a bit easier over the years, but I cherish the time we get to spend together. I cook and bake. All my children learned to deep-fry and bake a perfect pie crust from scratch. Our most wonderful moments are cooking together and having big feasts.
What is one thing moms can do to raise strong, independent, feminist daughters?
For women, in particular, it can be so easy to second-guess ourselves, and when we do that it can be difficult to take chances on new and exciting opportunities -- whether it's a new job, or a new challenge, or a major life decision. Mom really believed in taking every opportunity that came your way -- she encouraged me to do so, and I've really prided myself in encouraging my daughters to do the same.
I also think you can raise strong, independent, feminist sons, as well. My son Daniel might [have been] the only student at his school to be both in a fraternity and vice president of the reproductive rights group.
You are a role model to so many women. How do you strive to be a role model for your children?
By standing up for what I believe in and not being afraid to speak up even when it's hard and unpopular. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but it's something that I value so much from my upbringing, and I hope to pass on to my children as well.
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What do you think is the most common misconception about Planned Parenthood?
Most folks have no idea of the vital role we play in communities across America. This year we will celebrate our 100th year — incredible! We grew from a storefront in Brooklyn, New York -- opened before birth control was legal -- to the premier provider of reproductive health care in the United States.
Each year we deliver care to two and a half million patients across the country who come to us for a wide range of preventive and reproductive health care services -- including birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and abortion.
I wish all people knew -- some politicians in particular -- that people come to Planned Parenthood because they need high-quality affordable health care. They are not coming to make a political statement. Planned Parenthood patients come from all walks of life and they are counting on us to be there for them.
What keeps you going, especially when it might feel like you're fighting a constant uphill battle?
The fact that we've already made such important victories along the way. My proudest moment was when President Obama called me to tell me that birth control without a co-pay would be covered under the Affordable Care Act. We worked really hard to ensure that this happened, and we've seen tremendous benefits for women since.
I am so proud to work for this organization. Every day I am inspired by the thousands of staff working at our health centers across the country, and am in awe of their courage and compassion. Their commitment to the health care they deliver is unfailing.
I also continue to be inspired by the enthusiasm and drive of our supporters across the country, especially our young supporters. They are ensuring that this country is moving forward when it comes to affordable health care, access to birth control, comprehensive sex ed, and safe and legal abortion. The present and future of this movement [are] in good hands and I feel incredibly hopeful.
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You have been vocal about your own abortion. Why do you think it's important for women (many of whom are moms) to talk about it in a pragmatic way?
The majority of women who have abortions are mothers already. In fact, often being a mother already factors into a woman's decision to have an abortion when thinking through what is best for her and her family. I had an abortion when I already had my three children. My husband and I had decided that our family was complete.
Women who are mothers, like all women who find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy, should have the ability to decide if, when, and how often to have children. In order to have the ability to make those decisions, they must have access to the full range of reproductive health care services, including abortion.
What do you think is your greatest accomplishment?
My children are the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Image via Splash News; design by Anne Meadows