Besides, Richards says, the more circumspect, more polite route had already proved unworkable. “One option would be to try to stay under the radar and hope nobody ever found Planned Parenthood and never targeted us. That was already impossible. When I came in, there was already the kind of legislation passing that was undermining our ability to provide health care.” (As Richards was taking over in 2006, South Dakota passed a law making it a felony to perform an abortion unless the mother’s life was at risk.)
There are those who have tried to tempt Richards onto a less controversial path—including members of the current president’s family. In her new book, Richards recalls a meeting in January 2017 with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. As Richards tells it, Kushner argued it had been a mistake for Planned Parenthood to get “political,” and he offered the group a deal: stop providing abortions, and the government would increase its funding. Richards declined.
I ask what she made of the couple’s offer—and of their role in Trumpworld more generally. “That, to me, showed his naivete,” she says of Kushner. “He was really just trying to make a deal.”
As for Ivanka’s oft-discussed influence on her father: “I just felt like that she is never going to stand up to him. She hasn’t so far.”
Even as Richard has rallied supporters to her cause, she has galvanized the opposition as well. (Every movement needs a compelling bogeyman.) As Liberty University Professor Karen Swallow observed to Christianity Today on the occasion of Richards’s departure, “Richards helped turn what might once have been seen as a beleaguered public-service agency into an easy target for the anti-institutional idealism of a younger generation of pro-lifers.”
All the same, post-Richards, don’t look for Planned Parenthood to lower its profile or tone down its politics, Laguens said. “The fight for women’s equality and sexual reproductive health is obviously, in the case of Planned Parenthood, a century-long one that still continues. It’s always: You take a few steps forward, then someone says, ‘Wait a minute! You’re making progress.’ And they push back.”
Neither should anyone expect Richards to drift quietly into retirement. “I’m not going to go off and start baking pies,” she quips. Her immediate plan, in fact, is to get even more politically aggressive. “Certainly between now and the November elections.”
She declines to share specifically where or for whom she’ll be working next but says she will be intently “focused on getting women out to vote.” Because, while Planned Parenthood has done “incalculable” good, she says, unless women start making their voices heard at the polls, nothing will change.
And even then, Richards isn’t naïve. Whatever the electoral outcome of 2018 or 2020 or beyond, she knows this fight isn’t ending any time soon. “I think we’re going to be dealing with these issues forever.”
* This article originally stated that Dawn Laguens served as Planned Parenthood's interim CEO. We regret the error.