Born July 15, 1957 in Waco, Texas, Cecile Richards is the daughter of the late Ann Richards, a Democrat who served as governor of Texas from 1991-95, and David Richards, a radical labor-union lawyer. “I grew up in a very political family,” says Cecile. “Other families did bowling. We did politics.”
Richards began participating in antiwar protest activities at the age of twelve. At fifteen she worked on the 1972 political campaign of Texas state legislature candidate Sarah Weddington, the attorney who would successfully argue the 1973 Roe v. Wade case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
After graduating from Brown University in 1980, Richards began organizing low-wage workers in the hotel, health care, and janitorial industries in Texas, Louisiana, and California. In 1985 she became a leader of “Justice for Janitors,” a newly formed national campaign that demanded higher wages and better benefits for custodial workers in a number of U.S. cities. Richards also served variously as an organizer for the SEIU, a board of trustees member with the Ford Foundation, and a board member of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Richards has long harbored contempt for the so-called “Christian Right,” an antipathy that was sparked in 1994 when she perceived conservative religious voters who opposed her mother’s gubernatorial re-election bid against George W. Bush, as “angry, irrational” people who “were really on a mission to eradicate the state of [what they saw as] godless, pro-homosexual, anti-family elected officials.” Shortly after her mother’s electoral defeat, Cecile Richards founded the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), an organization that aimed to counter the political influence of conservative Christians, especially on school boards. In that post, Richards spoke out against school prayer, abstinence-only sex education, and the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in public schools.
After three years (1995-98) as executive director of TFN, Richards moved to Washington, D.C., where her husband, SEIU labor organizer Kirk Adams, had gone to work for the AFL-CIO. During her time in the capital, Richards—working closely with Jane Fonda and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA)—directed a Turner Foundation pro-choice project that aimed “to help build the infrastructure of the choice movement in America.” Moreover, she founded (and served as president of) Pro-Choice Vote, the largest “527” political committee in the 2000 election cycle.
During 2002-03, Richards spent eighteen months as deputy chief of staff to Democratic congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
In 2003 Richards was one of the founding members of America Coming Together (ACT), the Shadow Party’s grassroots get-out-the-vote network. Also among ACT’s founding officials and board members were Hillary Clinton, Gina Glantz, Rob Glaser, Jonathan Lewis, Ellen Malcolm, Rob McKay, Carl Pope, Steven Rosenthal, Jonathan Soros, and Antonio Villaraigosa.
In July 2003 Richards became president of the voter-mobilization coalition America Votes, a post she held through 2004.
In 2005 Richards served as a director with the Proteus Fund. That same year, she collaborated with Gina Glantz and New Democrat Network president Simon Rosenberg to form the New Politics Institute, a leftist think thank.
On February 15, 2006, Richards became president of Planned Parenthood, a position she would hold for the next 12 years. She also became president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, PPFA’s self-identified “advocacy and political arm.” Moreover, Richards oversaw the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Political Action Committee, which supports pro-abortion candidates for federal office.
In 2008 Richards endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for U.S. President, describing him as “a leader who will improve access to quality health care for women, a partner who will support and protect a woman’s right to choose, and a president who will invest in prevention programs that help prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce the need for abortion.”
In December 2010, Richards was a member of the Gala Host Committee for the Midwest Academy Awards Ceremony, along with Deepak Bhargava, Julian Bond, Luis Gutierrez, Wade Henderson, Gara LaMarche, John Lewis, and Jan Schakowsky.
In 2012 Richards took a leave of absence from Planned Parenthood to campaign full-time for President Obama’s re-election bid. She was also a top adviser to the White House on the controversial Obamacare mandate requiring all employers to provide their workers with health insurance policies that covered the costs of contraception and certain abortifacients, regardless of whether the employers had religious or moral objections to such things. Richards argued passionately in favor of the mandate.
Between January 2009 and July 2015, Richards visited the Obama White House 39 times—about once every two months. Those visits included at least three with President Obama alone; two with Michelle Obama alone; four with both the president and his wife together; four with former senior adviser David Plouffe; five with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett; and others with White House officials such as chiefs of staff William Daley and Denis McDonough.
In a September 2012 address to the Democratic National Convention, Richards sounded the theme that Republicans were anti-woman: “This year, women learned that if we aren’t at the table, we’re on the menu.”
In a February 2014 interview on abortion rights with Fusion TV’s Jorge Ramos, Richards was asked to articulate her beliefs regarding when, during the fetal gestation period, human life actually begins. “I don’t know if it’s really relevant to the conversation,” she replied. When pressed, Richards said that in her view, the lives of her own three children began when she delivered them. Eight months later, Richards publicly revealed that she herself had once had an abortion. “It was the right decision for me and my husband, and it wasn’t a difficult decision,” she said.
In April 2016, Richards derided the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic institute composed of nuns, for opposing (on religious grounds) the Obamacare HHS mandate that required employers to provide their workers with health insurance policies covering the costs of contraceptives and abortifacients. Speaking at Planned Parenthood’s Greater Texas Chapter, Richards accused the nuns of violating their workers’ right to free birth control. “The hypocrisy of these cases is profound,” she said. “It’s incredible to me that any employer in the 21st century would deny their employees access to birth control.”
In January 2018, Richards announced that she would resign from her post as Planned Parenthood president later that year. She vowed that her plan for the future was to continue working relentlessly on fundraising and campaigning for Democrats, and to motivate more women to run for public office and vote in elections.
On April 30, 2018, Richards did indeed step down from her position with Planned Parenthood.
In April 2019, Richards collaborated with Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and National Domestic Workers Alliance director Ai-jen Poo to establish an organization called Supermajority, whose founding objective was to teach 2 million women how to be political activists.
Over the years, Richards has made financial contributions to the political campaigns of numerous Democrats, including Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal, Sherrod Brown, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Rosa DeLauro, Donna Edwards, Tim Kaine, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. She also has donated money to such organizations as America Coming Together, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, and the Progressive Majority. Richards strives to direct her support toward individuals and organizations that she believes will advance the cause of “economic justice,” which she defines as the effort to “reduce the gap between rich people and poor people in this country.
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Further Reading: “Texas-Born Leader of Planned Parenthood Is Driven by Those Who Would Roll Back Abortion Rights” (Dallas News, June 2012); “The Daughter Also Rises” (Texas Monthly, August 2004); “Cecile Richards” (Britannica.com, InfluenceWatch.org, PublicEye.org; Keywiki.org); “President of Planned Parenthood Visited White House 39 Times” (Newsmax, 7-31-2015); “Cecile Richards: Little Sisters’ Religious Freedom Case Is ‘Hypocrisy’” (LifeSiteNews.com, 4-13-2016); Cecile Richards’ Political Donations (OpenSecrets.org); “Cecile Richards on Her Life After Planned Parenthood” (NY Times., 1-26-2018); “Outgoing Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards Is Not Done Fighting” (Time, 3-29-2018).