Cecile Richards Spoke at Georgetown University for the First Time — Here’s What She Said

Cecile Richards
Apr 20, 2016 · 11 min read

For the first time in its 100 year history, a Planned Parenthood president spoke at Georgetown University on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Invited by the university’s Lecture Fund, I spoke to over 500 Georgetown students at the Lohrfink Auditorium on Georgetown’s campus.

Here is what I had to say to the Hoyas in the audience:

Thank you so much Sophia and Michaela, and all the H*yas for Choice here today! I’m so proud of all you are doing to make sure the students of Georgetown have access to reproductive health care — 10,000 condoms distributed last semester! Because of you, someone somewhere is having safer sex! I can’t wait ’til the day Hoyas for Choice is an official campus group! A girl can dream.

Thank you Elizabeth and Helen and the entire Lecture Fund for inviting me.

Laura Meyers, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington — she and her team provide health care and education each year to thousands of folks in Washington and Maryland.

Thanks to Georgetown for standing by the Lecture Fund.

I love that Georgetown students are the kind of people who don’t have to agree with someone to listen to her thoughts!

Based upon my Twitter feed I know there were a bunch of folks who didn’t want me to speak — so thank you for showing up!

It actually is sort of appropriate, since every bit of progress we have made in this country, perhaps in the world, has been because there were people willing to speak out — even when it was unpopular.

And it is especially relevant because more often than not, it has been young people leading the charge.

Thinking back on some of the most important parts of our history: Congressman John Lewis was 25 years old when he faced down the fire hoses and police dogs in Selma, Alabama during the fight for civil rights. And he’s been part of the fight his whole life.

Students from colleges all over the South sat at lunch counters and demanded to be served.

And today, young Dreamers have faced arrest and deportation in their courageous fight for immigration rights.

And here at Georgetown, students have pushed the administration to grapple with the university’s history with slavery and racism. So I applaud you.

Our history with race in America is something we all must address — at Planned Parenthood too.

It’s important that we understand our collective history and the legacy it leaves on those still living in an unjust system.

Lack of access to health care and basic reproductive rights is a result of many factors — race, gender, sexual orientation, geography, immigration status — and to build true equity in America we must address it all.

Systems, government, only change when people stand up and confront injustice, especially when it’s controversial.

My very first brush with authority came in middle school in Dallas.

I wore a black armband to protest the war in Vietnam and got called down to the principal’s office. He tried to reach my mom to inform on me — it was his lucky day she wasn’t home….

But I was like — wow — I’m in seventh grade and I had never met the principal before. And now I’m in his office.

In college a popular button people wore said ‘question authority’ — I guess I took it to heart.

We organized against apartheid in South Africa. 30 years later I was back at Brown University when Nelson Mandela received an honorary degree. So change is possible.

We protested the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire, which has been delivering power now for decades. You win some, you lose some.

For most my life I was a labor organizer, and had the honor of working with women who put their jobs on the line to fight for better pay and working conditions. They’re some of the bravest folks I’ve ever known.

For the last century, Planned Parenthood has also been on the front lines of fighting for social justice.

This year, we turn 100 and it’s interesting if you look back at what life was like when we started.

In 1916, the two most common causes of death for women of childbearing age were tuberculosis and complications from childbirth. It was illegal to get information about birth control or to use it.

Margaret Sanger saw her own mother die after a lifetime of pregnancy and childbirth — 11 children and seven miscarriages.

Margaret became a nurse, and after watching too many women suffer, she and her sister Ethel opened up the first birth control storefront in New York City in October, 1916.

For 10 cents, women could get a pamphlet about how to prevent pregnancy, and from day one, women lined up down the block — pushing baby buggies, with babies in their arms.

10 days later an undercover cop posing as a mother busted Margaret and threw her in jail, where she taught all of her fellow inmates about birth control!

And a movement began!

The 100 year history of Planned Parenthood and the struggle for reproductive rights has been one of challenging authorities and pushing forward.

There was the fight to legalize birth control. The campaign to create the birth control pill and make it legal. The 1973 supreme court decision in Roe v. Wade, which finally legalized abortion.

All of these advances came because brave folks were willing to challenge the law and conventional wisdom. The results have changed the opportunities for women in profound ways.

100 years later, Planned Parenthood is a community institution in every state.

1 in 5 women in the U.S. have come to us for health care — and we see about 2.5 million patients a year —

The typical Planned Parenthood patient is in their 20s and makes less than $18,000. For many, we are the only medical provider they see in a given year. Patients come to us for birth control, breast exams, cancer screenings, well woman visits — and safe and legal abortion.

About 10 percent of our patients are men — many who come to us for testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. But that’s not all: The other day I was in our San Diego health center and the waiting room was full of men, the TV turned to ESPN — it was vasectomy day!

At every step we have worked to improve health care access — through organizing, through campaigning and also through making medical advances.

Most of you are too young to remember, but just a few years ago, you could not get emergency contraception, or the morning after pill, without a doctor visit and prescription — then finding a pharmacist to fill that prescription.

That was sort of less than ideal. It’s actually called emergency contraception because you need it in an emergency — which usually doesn’t happen Monday through Friday during normal business hours.

After years of stalling, it wasn’t until then-Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Patty Murray refused to vote on a new FDA commissioner until the FDA issued a ruling to allow emergency contraception over the counter. And now you can get it right off the shelf in any drugstore in America, 24/.

More recently, when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, Congress held hearings on whether birth control should be covered. They famously called together a panel of experts to talk about it. The only thing these experts had in common was that they would never be using birth control — because they were all men.

A Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, became a national heroine by standing up for the rights of university students everywhere to get access to birth control, Planned Parenthood mobilized thousands of people to come to Washington and lobby, and students dressed up as giant birth control pill packs and rallied on college campuses.

And finally — I’ll never forget the day President Obama called Planned Parenthood.

He told me he was about to announce at the White House that from here on out, women would get all forms of birth control fully covered under their insurance plans — no matter where they work. It was revolutionary.

55 million women now have access to no copay birth control — and just in the first year of the benefit, saved $1.4 billion.

And now students can get birth control through Georgetown insurance plans. Welcome to the 21st century!

Here’s why it matters. This is the punch line:

Today, we’re at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy

We’re at a 40-year low for teen pregnancy.

Can you imagine the progress we could make if we weren’t constantly fighting Congress about access to Planned Parenthood?

I can! So let’s do it!

100 years after Planned Parenthood was founded — the opportunities for young people — and young women in particular — are profoundly different.

In the early 1960’s before birth control was legal, women were not expected to build careers — much less finish school. Men were more than twice as likely as women to get a degree. For example — in 1960, only two percent of attorneys were women

Today, it’s unimaginable that pregnancy would alone determine your education, your career or your future.

Women are more than half of undergraduate students. Women are half of the law and medical students. Women now earn the majority of master’s and doctoral degrees in the U.S.

We are scientists and astronauts — there are 20 women in the U.S. Senate — though as Senator Claire Mccaskill says, you know what would be better? 50

We have three women on the Supreme Court — so we’re making progress there.

And soon we may even elect a woman President!

Fully one-third of the wage gains women have made since the 60s are solely because of access to birth control. So if we want to finally close the pay gap — we need more access, not less.

Change happens in other ways too — and at Planned Parenthood we are constantly leveraging innovation to improve people’s lives.

Right now in the U.S., sex education is not easy to come by, especially if you are in rural America. Guttmacher reports that the majority of teenagers outside metropolitan areas aren’t getting basic information. But through planned parenthood on line — 6 million visitors a month now get accurate, non-judgemental information in english and spanish about everything from the latest forms of birth control to how a condom works.

You can now book appointments 24/7 on a mobile phone — like at midnight when our offices are closed but birth control might just really be on your mind.

And just last month we launched Spot On — a period tracker that is incredibly cool and helps track your menstrual cycle and also learn anything and everything about birth control options.

And we are even in clinical trials for a self-injectable birth control shot that lasts three months.

Sometimes disruption is new kinds of care — sometimes it’s just refusing to back down — like in my home state of Texas.

The legislature and Governor Rick Perry and Governor Greg Abbott have been hell bent on shutting down Planned Parenthood and ending access to safe and legal abortion.

Their actions have been devastating to women in Texas — especially women who have the least access to health care.

They’ve shuttered 82 women’s health centers, most not even Planned Parenthood.

But our folks in Texas just will not quit.

Despite the assault, in the last year, we’ve opened new health centers in Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio. And next month, we will be in Louisiana, cutting the ribbon on a brand new health center in New Orleans — in a state where thousands of women still go without basic reproductive health care.

So, as we launch our second century, we still have work to do.

And it’s good we’re here, because the single most important group of people to determine our future is you.

Your generation believes in civil rights, in LGBT rights, in reproductive rights. You believe in equal pay and that global warming is real and serious, that voting matters. Millions of you will vote this november, and I believe you will determine the outcome of this election.

I’m constantly blown away by what young people are doing in this country to embrace and shape the 21st century

Andrea Pino and Annie Clark saw an epidemic of campus sexual violence and created a network to support survivors and hold universities accountable.

Three women — Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors — called on the country to take action after the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Four years later, the Movement for Black Lives is much more than a hashtag — it’s completely changed the conversation about race and justice in this country — and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

At Planned Parenthood — there has been an explosion of activism — nearly half a million new activists in the last year alone — and they aren’t just young women.

And next month, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund will bring together 1,000 activists from across the country to launch Power of Pink — activists who will be on the front lines in the november election to make sure we can keep building on the progress we’ve worked so hard to make.

At Planned Parenthood — our motto is care, no matter what. That’s a promise or a threat, depending on where you sit.

That means providing care even when it’s hard, even when folks are picketing our health centers — because often that’s where women are counting on us more than ever.

Back in Texas, you will remember, the legislature’s action to take away abortion access in the state generated enormous protests. Thousands of people poured into the capitol in Austin. Young people drove from college campuses across Texas, day after day. And Senator Wendy Davis stood up for women — for 13 hours straight.

On my way into the Capitol the day of the filibuster, there were huge crowds. As I moved through all the people I passed a mother with her son — he was probably 14 — and she elbowed him and said, “show her your sign.”

He held up a huge piece of orange tagboard — he had written on it in magic marker: “I still have my mom thanks to cancer screenings at planned parenthood.”

His mom started to cry and said simply, “Thank you.”

That young man — really, still a boy — was at the State Capitol advocating not for an abstract principle, but for his mother’s health and life. His mom, and all our patients, are why we do what we do every day. It is the purpose of every rally. It is why we keep going.

So for all of you — I want to pass on some wisdom from my mom, the late Governor Ann Richards. She had a lot of advice, and it was better to just take it.

She said, “This is the only life you have, so make the most of it.” She felt really lucky to have the job she had, and she reminded me often how lucky I was to have a career as an activist.

She said: “You may go somewhere else and you may make a lot of money, but you will never receive the kind of gratification that you get when someone looks you in the eye and says thank you for helping make my life better.”

The world can be tough — it can be unjust. But here’s the great news: Each of you has the power to do something about it. You get to build the world you want to live in.

I, for one, can’t wait to see what you do with it.

Planned Parenthood Action Voices

This publication keeps you updated on the world of reproductive health and uses a reproductive rights lens to view current events and politics.

Cecile Richards

Written by

Runner, baker, traveler, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (@PPFA) & Planned Parenthood Action Fund (@PPact).

Planned Parenthood Action Voices

This publication keeps you updated on the world of reproductive health and uses a reproductive rights lens to view current events and politics.

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