On Monday, Planned Parenthood’s Greater Texas chapter raised more than $850,000 during a luncheon headlined by the nonprofit’s president, Cecile Richards. It was the most ever raised during a single event by the local chapter, which includes 20 clinics spread throughout North and Central Texas.
Richards’ message was clearly structured to motivate the 1,400 audience members to continue their support despite what she describes as unprecedented opposition from the right. Before she took the stage, she sat down with D Healthcare Daily and a reporter from the Dallas Voice named James Russell.
We discussed how women’s access to care has been affected in recent years; how Planned Parenthood aims to offer a judgement-free setting for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community to receive healthcare; and what she thinks of the recent cases before the Supreme Court of the United States that could impact how it offers its services going forward. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Dallas Voice: As an LGBT paper what do you think is most important for our community to know about your services?
I think it’s important to know that we are an LGBT welcoming healthcare provider, and extremely proud of—not only as a healthcare provider, but as a community leader—of our relationship in the LGBT community. A lot of our patients may be looking for services that they are not able to find in other places or they may not be able to find without the shame and stigma people feel they get when they look for reproductive healthcare.
It’s been, I think, not only an important part of our history but going forward continues to be a real focus and that’s been led by both our young staff and patients and activists. I actually just did an interview with Laverne Cox for Interview magazine and we were talking about this and the importance of non-stigmatized healthcare services. We’re really proud right now, 11 percent of our patients in Planned Parenthood in this area are young men. That, to me, is enormous growth. Certainly many folks come to us for STI testing and treatment, again, not only because I think we provide high quality care that’s affordable, but also for many people a place where they don’t have to be worried about being judged. And that’s good.
D Healthcare Daily: When you mention HIV testing and things like that, in Indiana there was an outbreak there after the state stopped funding Planned Parenthood.
DHCD: You’ve got 11 states that have been successful in cutting your funding. The rhetoric is so venomous now at the top in the presidential race but you have evidence that these initiatives are affecting care to women. How do you get that message out above the rhetoric?
Richards: The media has been incredibly important in not only talking about what Planned Parenthood does, but actually putting a human face on what it means when you cut healthcare. There’s no better example than Texas, when we’ve seen the most recent report coming out that in fact when women have lost access to birth control that they’ve counted on before, less access and more unintended pregnancy there’s just a direct correlation.
So to me it is important and what we have seen over and over again is when anyone, organization or politician, puts politics ahead of folks’ healthcare the outcome is disastrous and the American people don’t support it. There’s a reckoning day coming and I believe in this election the rhetoric around Planned Parenthood, around reproductive healthcare access, around LGBT people is not going to go in the favor of folks who have been leading that charge. The American people strongly support Planned Parenthood because they support the work that we do. One in five women have been to Planned Parenthood for healthcare. We are a community institution and the important thing this cycle, and now I’m speaking on behalf of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the important thing this November is to make sure every single person going to the polls understands the difference between the candidates and the parties on basic healthcare access and on rights.
DHCD: This is the first time that Planned Parenthood has endorsed a candidate in the primary in your history.
Richards: Correct, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
DHCD: Can you talk about the decision to come out and endorse someone at this time and why Hillary Clinton is your candidate.
Richards: Sure. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is made up of thousands of people all across the country. We first of all decided it was important to look at this election early on because of the rhetoric coming out of the Republican party. We’ve never seen a cast of candidates that are 100 percent against Planned Parenthood, 100 percent against Roe v. Wade, 100 percent against a host of other issues that were of concern. It was important to get off the sidelines early.
The Action Fund put together a representative group that interviewed all the candidates running on the Democratic primary, and although everyone had a strong voting record, there was only one candidate who had literally spent their entire life fighting for and standing up for and advancing the issues that Planned Parenthood cares about and that was Sec. Clinton. From her early days long before she was in elected office to her role in the United States Senate where she introduced eight separate bills to expand reproductive healthcare access, which is eight more than anybody running for president. She’s just been an unabashed leader.
What we have experienced under President Obama is we need a leader in the White House. The Congress has voted repeatedly to get rid of Planned Parenthood. They shut down the government over this issue. We need someone in the White House who is not only going to be a good vote, but someone who will lead.
DV: A lot of the religious liberty cases that have been before the court have to do with contraceptives, have to do with women’s health. What’s your take?
Richards: It’s incredible to me that any employer in the 21st century would deny their employees access to birth control. This is the most commonly used prescription in the country. Upwards of 95 percent of women use birth control at some point in their lifetime. I’m very proud of the fact that under President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, 55 million women, basically every woman who is insured, gets birth control covered at no co-pay. We are making such enormous strides. We are at a 30 year low for unintended pregnancy in the U.S., I believe, in large part, because of access to family planning.
The hypocrisy of these cases is profound. I can tell you having sat in the Supreme Court recently, having three women on the court that understand the impact on women of these laws has been momentous and I do believe if we had a Supreme Court that more equally represented all of America we would be getting different kinds of decisions. But I’m hopeful that we will win this one. We will continue to provide care no matter what, including women who are uninsured, immigrant women, women who do not have the benefit of a birth control benefit. But it is exciting to see that birth control is now considered part of preventive medicine. For the first time! For the first time.
DHCD: You alluded to the study in the New England Journal of Medicine that has contributed to a number of controversies within the Texas Department of State Health Services. Its co-author has resigned, the state has walked away from it. Was that something you expected?
Richards: It’s incredible to me that you could have such an important piece of research that was totally factually based, was simply looking at women who had birth control access and now do not and what were the healthcare outcomes? The fact that the state of Texas has been completely unwilling, not only in this case but repeatedly, to own up to the impact of cutting women off of healthcare services is very discouraging. It doesn’t represent where this state is at. The politicization, and this is simply their most recent chapter, but when they shut down the Texas Women’s Health Program leading to dozens of health centers, most of which were not Planned Parenthoods, the impact is immediate.
That’s what that study showed. The impact is felt most acutely on populations that have the least access to affordable healthcare. We’re the highest uninsured population in the country. So if I were the head of HHS? I would be doing everything in my power to ensure that every person in this state, particularly every woman, had the best access to healthcare that they could. But instead, what we have repeatedly seen is putting their own politics ahead of the wellbeing of the people that they serve. It’s a disgrace.
DHCD: Do you feel there’s a disconnect between the individuals behind these laws and initiatives and the ones who need healthcare but live in the Rio Grande Valley, or somewhere similar? Do you view it as a lack of empathy?
Richards: A lack of empathy is a theme that runs throughout all this. Whether it was the Fifth Circuit saying it was no big deal for women to have to drive hundreds of miles from the Rio Grande border to access a safe and legal abortion because the highways are flat? Whether it was sitting five hours and some change before Congress and testifying and having zero empathy from members of the committee about what it actually meant to cut women off from healthcare access? Women like Dayna Ferris Fisher who depended on Planned Parenthood for breast cancer services, now which have been cut by the state?
The lack of empathy all around is profound. And this state is better than that. It really underscores what Planned Parenthood is all about. Our motto is Care No Matter What, and that’s what we live by every day. And again, consistently, it’s been demonstrated that when politicians or people in government put politics and well being ahead of the people of their state, the voters disagree. And at this point, I don’t think they’re representing either the best interests of the people in the state of Texas or where the voters would like the state government to go.