One of the most prominent voices in the abortion-rights movement, Cecile Richards, announced that she will be stepping down as the President of Planned Parenthood after 12 years of leadership. While this announcement comes as a bit of a shock to those on both sides of the abortion argument, it is undoubtedly a positive change for the Pro Life Movement. Why? Cecile Richards was damn good at her job.
Americans were shocked by the results of the 2016 election. Polls on both sides of the aisle predicted a landslide victory for vehemently pro-choice Hillary Clinton, and the upset by President Trump begat reactions of every flavor. The record-breaking Women’s March on Washington of 2017, which drew close to half a million people, was wrought with self-proclaimed “nasty women” who were proponents of everything from LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, and reproductive rights. Richards, who was dressed in a chic, pink blazer, was one of the many speakers of the Women’s March. Over the applause of adoring fans, she began her speech by saying that “Reproductive rights are human rights. Together we are a movement and we are unstoppable.” A year later, at the recent 2018 Women’s March in Las Vegas, Richards addressed the crowd by speaking about the importance of voting. “The only thing standing between this administration and their goal to end access… to safe and legal abortion has been millions of determined women,” which was drowned out with applause.
From the time Richards took on the role of President of Planned Parenthood, the public discourse about abortion has changed drastically. In a 2015 interview with Katie Couric, Cecile Richards revealed that she and her husband aborted their fourth child, saying that their family was already complete with their three children. Part of the reason she shared this deeply private information, she said, was to end the “abortion stigma.” Richards was merely continuing the trend in which women shared their seemingly positive stories about their abortions, which have come to the forefront of pop culture. A 2005 episode of Sex and the City depicts successful lawyer, Miranda Hobbs’ deeply-grievant decision to abort her pregnancy. This is met with anger from her friend who is struggling with infertility, so Hobbs ultimate decides to keep the baby. Juxtapose this with the 2012 of HBO’s Girls, in which nomadic character, Jessa, finds herself pregnant, she apathetically schedules her abortion, and her friends are almost jubilant to accompany her to her appointment. In the end, Jessa ends up miscarrying, but the poignant lack of grief in this depiction is a far cry from the Sex and the City episode a decade earlier. The 2014 Emily Letts story, “Why I Filmed by Abortion” appeared in an online version of Cosmopolitan magazine and the actual video won the Abortion Care Network’s “Stigma Busting” video contest. Letts’ goal was to tell an “positive” abortion story, which made headlines around the globe.
Cecile Richards’ mission to end the stigma of abortion also was also played out in politics. She campaigned vigorously for Hillary Clinton, who ran largely on her pro-choice stance, which also evolved from the time Richards became Planned Parenthood’s President. In a 1994 interview with Newsweek then-First Lady Clinton said that she believed abortion was morally wrong. Fast forward to 2016, where the writer of an October Atlantic opinion piece unabashedly applauded Hillary Clinton for being the first presidential candidate to defend abortion rights under any and all circumstances, as opposed to those she deems as the softer stance of former Vice President Al Gore who said, “Bill Clinton and I support the right of a woman to choose. That doesn’t mean we’re pro-abortion; in fact, we believe there are way too many abortions in this country.” The writer likewise went on to attack former President Obama who took on a similar tone to Gore, saying that increased access to birth control should be a priority, so as to decrease the “need for abortion.” The end to the abortion stigma was forefront in Richards’ mission, and articles such as these show that even passionately pro-choice politicians like former-President Obama do not even meet their criteria.
As Cecile Richards’ tenure comes to a close, her work to end the stigma of abortion will hopefully be reversed. Even people who consider themselves to be pro-choice traditionally have considered abortion to be an unfortunate last resort, as opposed to the empowering procedure that Richards and those influenced by her try to convey. Even though Richards did not get her way with the 2016 presidential election, she definitely left a mark on American society. Those in the Pro-Life movement have a large job ahead of them to reverse what Richards has done to society, but without her in the forefront, the battle may be waged in a stronger manner.
Brittany L. Higdon (@basicbrittblog) is a native of Ohio and has been residing in the Washington, DC area since 2008. She holds a Master of Education from the University of Virginia, and blogs about budgeting, Catholicism, and DC life at www.basicbritt.com. When she is not writing, she is exploring the Smithsonian Museums, traveling, and playing with her Dachshund/Yorkie named Cannoli.