The president of Planned Parenthood on reproductive rights under Obama.
Harvard Political Review: Where do you think the focus of the student pro-choice movement should be?
Cecile Richards: I think the affordability of contraception is one of the biggest issues. Even though birth control is legal, it’s still not accessible for many women, particular low-income women and young women. We see too many young women who choose not to use birth control because they’re choosing between birth control or paying the rent. We have this huge opportunity in the new health care bill to get birth control covered for all women at no cost.
HPR: How do you think the midterm elections will affect reproductive rights?
CR: I think the mood of the country is important for what both Congress and the Supreme Court do. Supposedly they’re above the public rabble, but they’re influenced by public debate. So I think it’s critical to rebuild a cadre of young people who are willing to take up the banner.
HPR: President Obama is obviously much more of a friend to the pro-choice movement than President Bush was. How have you seen this in practice?
CR: His first week in office, when he rescinded the global gag rule [banning NGOs from promoting abortion abroad if they receive federal funds], was a sign that things had changed. And the entire health care reform effort, the thought that we would now actually be covering women for preventive care, was also very important.
Just two weeks ago, the federal government released their funding plan for sex education in America and it is a 180-degree change. The biggest recipient of education funding is Planned Parenthood. It was a really good sign, a concrete action that is going to make a difference.
HPR: So health care reform contained a lot of positive elements for you. Do you see it as a great success or were you hoping for more?
CR: As an activist, you always have to fight for more. It was great to have those Harvard students fighting back the Stupak amendment, which would have banned abortion in the insurance exchange. That was a really important victory. But we definitely need more. Women should be able to get all the reproductive health care they need, regardless of income. And unfortunately that’s not true for low-income women in America.
HPR: While Planned Parenthood is a national organization, do you see greater global involvement in its future?
CR: Planned Parenthood already funds programs in 11 countries. I just got back from Guatemala, where we fund a lot of youth initiatives and safe abortion access programs. In many ways, the issues we’re dealing with in the states are the issues we’re dealing with overseas.
For instance, the New York Times ran a story recently about a woman in Guanajuato, Mexico, who was imprisoned for performing illegal abortions. And on the same day you read that someone like Carly Fiorina is running to overturn Roe. And you think, do we really want the United States to look more like El Salvador or Mexico in the way they restrict women’s health care access? We have to tell these stories in a much more global sense.
Lily Ostrer ’14 is a Staff Writer. This interview has been edited and condensed.