By Peggy Fikac
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, participates in a phone banking event at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in Austin on Sept. 9. Photo: Carolyn Van Houten / 2016 San Antonio Express-News Photo: Carolyn Van Houten Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, participates in a phone banking event at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in Austin on Sept. 9.
AUSTIN – In a state stereotyped nationally by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz cooking bacon on a machine gun, Cecile Richards sees a different kind of sizzle.
The daughter of the late trailblazing Gov. Ann Richards and prominent labor and civil-rights lawyer David Richards, her outlook was shaped by the progressive causes that she was taught to revere, but have always faced an uphill battle.
“In Texas, you don’t get anything that you don’t fight for. I certainly learned that from my mom and my dad, whether it was the labor movement or the civil rights movement or the early women’s rights movement,” Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
“I don’t think it’s accidental that a lot of strong leaders come out of the state of Texas,” said Richards, who lives in New York but makes frequent trips back here as she did recently, combining some campaigning for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with attending her 83-year-old father’s wedding.
Richards, 59, is the determined leader of Planned Parenthood as the organization is repeatedly targeted by anti-abortion forces, becoming a lightning rod for the right whether she is enduring a congressional grilling, joining a throng of protesters, writing about her own abortion, celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court victory or touting Hillary Clinton’s support for women’s rights and health care.
While turning aside suggestions for years that she run for office, Richards sees Texas activists pushing back against the long GOP reign that she says doesn’t represent Texans’ desires, despite elections to the contrary.
She pointed to clamorous Texas Capitol protests when the Republican-dominated Legislature in 2013 passed tighter abortion restrictions. The law was overturned this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, which called the requirements an undue burden on abortion rights.
‘Lift up the voices’
“I never have felt that the politicians – and I would certainly include Gov. (Greg) Abbott in this – are reflecting the hopes and desires of folks in Texas. These attacks … were on far more than access to safe and legal abortion. They were on access to basic cancer screenings. They’ve shut Planned Parenthood out of the breast cancer screening program,” she said. “I believe that every time they have put their political agenda ahead of the well-being of women in the state of Texas, they’ve made a huge mistake.
“And we have seen the most extraordinary organizing and pushback,” she said. “I believe so strongly that that Supreme Court decision is directly linked to what we have seen people on the ground do in Texas and that is … lift up the voices of women who have been disenfranchised.”
An Abbott spokesman declined comment.
Richards praised others when asked about being perhaps the nation’s best-known face in the fight for access to safe abortion and women’s health care. It’s a reputation she has put to use in traveling to more than 20 states for the first woman to be a major party’s presidential nominee, but she takes pains to emphasize it’s built on the work of many.
“There are a lot of women – and not only women – that have been in the forefront of this fight for a long, long time. I’m honored to be part of it, but I don’t by any stretch want to think that I am the sole or even the most important leader in this movement,” she said, a familiar theme for her. After the Washington Post outlined the “bolder” abortion rights movement under her leadership at Planned Parenthood, she submitted a correction saying it had overstated her role.
Richards nevertheless has influenced national policy since taking the top job at Planned Parenthood more than 10 years ago, recounting a memorable personal call from President Obama before his announcement that birth control would be covered under the Affordable Care Act.
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