Cecile Richards: Mike Pence is “orchestra master” of assault on women’s rights under Trump

The first year of President Trump’s administration may be the worst year for women of any administration in United States history.

SOURCEDemocracy Now!

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards says the first year of President Trump’s administration may be the worst year for women of any administration in United States history. But, she notes, it has also been a year of organizing and resistance by women and their allies.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, as we mark nearly one year under President Trump, our next guest says this may be the worst year for women than in any other presidential administration in history. But, she notes, it’s also been a year of organizing and resistance by women and their allies.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we continue our conversation with Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

I want to start by asking you about the “Me Too” movement. You talk about movements and the power of – this was started 10 years ago by Tarana Burke –


AMY GOODMAN:  – who cared about sexual assault and abuse, she herself a survivor, African-American woman – we’ve had her on several times – talking about how girls and women can take power. And then you see what happens today. It’s not only in the United States, it’s coursed the globe. Can you start there? And then talk about the gains and, you feel, the losses in this country in the last year.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I think one of – and this movement is interesting. I think there’s some parallels in the reproductive health movement, in that for years women have been ashamed of sharing their own stories, including about abortion, abortion stories, and it is only now that women are sharing them on social media and that they’re being covered in the news as actually part of women’s healthcare, part of the – just what happens in women’s lives, that I think we’re beginning to erase some of the stigma. And I think there are a lot of parallels.

Look, it’s been a year, Amy, of extraordinary assault on women, on Planned Parenthood, on women’s access to healthcare. But, as I said earlier, I also – I have never seen – I’ve been an organizer my entire lifetime. I have never seen the outpouring of activism, not only by young women and young men, but women who have never been involved in politics or organizing before. And I see that every single day, and not only in New York and Washington and San Francisco, but in Utah, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, places where women are saying, “It’s our time. It’s time for us to take a stand and to actually be involved.” It’s really exciting.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about, during the past year, some of the major wins and losses that have occurred under the Trump administration?

CECILE RICHARDS: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, I remember, Juan, when, in January, the speaker, Paul Ryan, said that by February there would be a bill on President Trump’s desk that would defund Planned Parenthood and repeal the Affordable Care Act. And here we are in December, and our doors are still open all across the United States of America, because we were able to beat that back. And it was not because people in Congress suddenly saw the light. It’s because, literally, the outpouring of grassroots organizing across the country, primarily from women – some estimates are that 86 percent of the calls coming to Congress were coming from women – and also because, frankly, two Republican women – Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – bucked their party, stood up for Planned Parenthood and against the repeal of women’s reproductive rights and access to Planned Parenthood. But it’s tenuous. I mean, that was a huge victory. But I know, going into 2018, we’re going to be fighting it all over again.

AMY GOODMAN: You had Vice President Mike Pence actually addressing what they call the March for Life –


AMY GOODMAN:  – January 22nd, that has been going on since 1973, when the court ruled in Roe v. Wade, making sure abortion was legal. How significant was this? I mean, when people are calling for the resignation of President Trump, his impeachment, Mike Pence is the vice president, who would be president.

CECILE RICHARDS: No, absolutely. And I – look, I think what’s important, Amy, is that when we’ve had a chance to actually have a public conversation and a public fight, like over the defunding of Planned Parenthood, we can win. The danger is what this administration is doing – and Vice President Mike Pence is the orchestra master on this – of putting people into places of authority that will now repeal and take away women’s rights, where we have actually no public discourse. You can look at Health and Human Services now. It has been completely stocked with people who are against not only Planned Parenthood, not only against safe and legal abortion, they’re against birth control now. I mean, that’s what we’re seeing from leaked memos from the White House. They now want to take away family planning money and redirect it to teaching women –

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And who, specifically, are some of those people? So that –

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, you can look at Teresa Manning, who is the head of what’s called the Title X. It’s the national family planning program, signed into law by a Republican president. It serves 4 million women, mainly low-income women, across the country. She doesn’t even believe in birth control. She’s not a supporter of contraception. And what we’re seeing now is that they are going to try to unravel a program that has led to, I mean, two important victories to me. We have the lowest teen pregnancy in the history of the United States of America and a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy. What I fear from this administration is they’re now putting, of course, their politics ahead of women’s health, and we’ll see those rates begin to rise again.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the case of Scott Lloyd. Explain who he is and how he tried to weigh in on a young immigrant woman, who – a teenager –


AMY GOODMAN:  – who had gotten permission to have an abortion in Texas.


AMY GOODMAN: He went down to Texas to try to stop this from happening.

CECILE RICHARDS: No, and he is a perfect example of the kind of folks that are being appointed by this administration, that no one’s ever heard of, no one ever knows. But, yes, Jane Doe, in my home state of Texas, had been apprehended at the border, put into custody, found out that she was pregnant, because, of course, so many young women who are trying to make it across the border are victims of sexual assault. She did all the things that were necessary to actually get permission for access to abortion, which is very hard for a minor in the state of Texas. And then, yes, Scott Lloyd did everything he could to try to prevent her from accessing an abortion.

AMY GOODMAN: And he was the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

CECILE RICHARDS: Exactly. And I would say this is the case we know about, but this is something that’s actually happening across the country to young women, who now have absolutely no access to power. And thank goodness for the ACLU and my colleagues there, who were able to fight this case.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the judgeships? Some people would argue perhaps that Donald Trump’s longest-lasting legacy will be his appointments to the federal benches. Could you talk about that, as well?

CECILE RICHARDS: No, absolutely. I mean, in Planned Parenthood, we are now litigating in five different district courts. There are vacancies everywhere. And because they have suspended the rules in the United States Senate now, these nominees – lifetime appointments to the federal bench – are now running through. In fact, we just had one yesterday. They moved to cloture on someone who has been basically said – unanimous decision by the American Bar Association – completely unqualified, who takes a position completely opposed to reproductive rights. Those are the kind of folks now who are being appointed to and confirmed for lifetime appointments to the federal bench. And that – you’re right – is going to be a legacy that decades of women are now going to have to suffer under and endure.

AMY GOODMAN: We just got this word, that Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary just named its word of the year for 2017, “feminism.”

CECILE RICHARDS: It’s about time.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Republican Arizona Congressman Trent Franks, who suddenly, last week, in the midst of other people announcing their resignations, announced that he would be resigning from the House of Representatives. This came in the midst of this scandal that a number of women in his office said he had pressured them to bear his children, one woman saying he had approached her at least four times and offered her $5 million to carry his child. Can you talk about the significance of this? Who is Trent Franks? He is – among the things he has said is he called President Obama the “enemy of humanity.”

CECILE RICHARDS: Yeah. I mean, there is so much irony in the folks who are now, of course, being exposed for what they’ve done, because Trent Franks is one of the most adamant anti-women’s rights, anti-abortion members of the United States House of Representatives. And so, I think these – I mean, thank goodness this story came out. It is unimaginable what women have suffered under Trent Franks. I think this is only the tip of the iceberg. We’re going to be seeing these stories come out, I think, every week now.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, we’ve seen a number of women come out in these red cloaks at protests –


AMY GOODMAN:  – for Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, that was made into a TV series. You couldn’t help think about Gilead –

CECILE RICHARDS: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN:  – and Handmaid’s Tale, when hearing what had just taken place with Trent Franks.

CECILE RICHARDS: No, it’s amazing. I actually just got to present the lifetime achievement award to Margaret Atwood, and we were both remarking on the fact that now everything that she has written is actually coming true to life. So, it’s unimaginable.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Roy Moore and his significance when it comes to both sexual assault, acknowledging stories, and what his record is on reproductive rights? We talked about Doug Jones and his support for abortion.

CECILE RICHARDS: Right. Well, I mean, that’s the other disturbing thing about Roy Moore, is even if you put aside his own past and his sexual assault past, his positions on women, on gay people, on pretty much any group that’s been under attack by this administration, that’s been Roy Moore’s position. He’s unqualified for all those reasons, before we even get to his own personal –

AMY GOODMAN: When asking when America was great again, he referred back to slavery times.

CECILE RICHARDS: It’s incredible. And, I mean, this is where I think – one of the things that has been so disturbing about seeing what’s happened this year. It’s one thing to have Donald Trump take these extreme positions. It’s another thing to have Roy Moore. But to have Republicans in the United States Senate and the United States Congress, who actually know better, support this gentleman coming to the Senate, I think it’s going to be really important, if he wins today, to see what position the United States senators take on seating him in the Senate. He is unqualified in every way. And I think it’s going to be a stain on their party. And frankly, I saw today that President Trump’s numbers are the lowest they’ve ever been in polling. I think that women are fed up.

AMY GOODMAN: And President Trump’s position on Planned Parenthood? Ever-changing?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I don’t think it’s really changed. I mean, he did, of course, during the – during the presidential primary, he was the one Republican who, I think in a moment of probably either weakness or not really focus – focusing, said that, of course, he knew many, many women who have been helped by Planned Parenthood, which, of course, all Republicans know, because Republicans come to Planned Parenthood just like everyone else. But, of course, since he’s become president, he has basically said he wants to block women from coming to Planned Parenthood.

He has explicitly said – back to your question about the judiciary, he has explicitly said he will only appoint justices, not only to the Supreme Court, but to these other federal benches, that – the federal bench, that oppose reproductive rights and access. And, Amy, one of the, of course, deep concerns for us at Planned Parenthood is, we’re the largest provider of reproductive healthcare in the country. One in five women have come to us. In many areas, we’re the only provider of safe and legal abortion. And the thing – one of the real disturbing thoughts is now for women in the South – and I was glad that, you know, Samantha was on – because access to reproductive healthcare in the South, including my home state of Texas, is getting harder and harder, particularly for women of low income and women of color.

AMY GOODMAN: And how –

CECILE RICHARDS: And under this administration, it’s going to get worse.

AMY GOODMAN: And how legislation affects the Affordable Care Act? How that legislation, what they’re trying to do to it, affects women and their access to healthcare?

CECILE RICHARDS: Right. I mean, repealing the Affordable Care Act and blocking access to Planned Parenthood, it wasn’t only that women couldn’t come to us for family planning anymore or – and that’s why we’ve been fighting it. But they wanted to get rid of maternity benefits. They want to get rid of prenatal care. They want to get rid of women’s access to birth control across the board. And, of course, the first women who are going to feel the brunt of this are women of low income, who need access to healthcare the very, very most.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Cecile Richards, we want to thank you so much for being with us, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by Luis Gutiérrez. He’s just announced he’s retiring – doesn’t mean he won’t continue his actions. He was just arrested last Wednesday around immigration and fighting for a DREAM Act to be passed by his U.S. Congress. Stay with us.


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