Cecile Richards, who for the past twelve years has been the president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, draws deeply on her group’s collection of anodyne talking points in her new 270-page, ghost-written memoir, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.
Richards’s book does manage to demonstrate her mastery of the empty sloganeering that makes up the lion’s share of her job at Planned Parenthood, where she has made a name for herself as the mouthpiece of the American pro-abortion movement. And, over the past decade, she has put her money where her mouth is. Under her watch, Planned Parenthood clinics have performed over 3.5 million abortions.
That number, of course, appears nowhere in her memoir. For all of her enthusiastic talk of a woman’s “right to choose,” Richards is curiously averse to celebrating exactly how frequently women avail themselves of that right, as well as how much cash Planned Parenthood rakes in as a result. (The group sat on net assets of more than $1.6 billion at the end of last fiscal year.)
Much of the book, instead, documents Richards’s early life and unexceptional attempts at political activism. For a careful reader, the few chapters on her stint at Planned Parenthood — where she’ll hang up her spurs later this year, date to be announced — will be very revealing. Instead of dealing with substantive accusations against her organization, Richards delivers a series of careful puff pieces, caricaturing the pro-life movement as bigoted and using it as a foil to proclaim her own heroism.
Her chapter about crisscrossing the country to campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton does much to disprove the notion that Planned Parenthood is merely a friendly neighborhood health-care provider.
It’s undeniable that the anti-abortion movement is growing: Over half of Democrats and over half of pro-choice Americans, for example, said in January that they support significant abortion restrictions. But Richards seems blind to the movement’s increasing strength, and as a result her memoir gives pro-lifers even more ammunition to unravel the web of myths she has helped spin around abortion.
For one thing, her chapter about crisscrossing the country to campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton does much to disprove the notion that Planned Parenthood is merely a friendly neighborhood health-care provider. In fact, its political-action arm is one of the country’s most influential lobbying groups. In 2016, it doled out more than $40 million for “public policy” and spent upwards of $175 million in such nebulous categories as “movement building” and “engaging communities” — code, of course, for “electing Democrats.” By comparison, one prominent pro-life lobbying group, the Susan B. Anthony List, spent less than $4 million in the 2016 cycle, according to OpenSecrets.
Despite the public’s increasing unease with abortion, Planned Parenthood’s PR efforts seem to be working. Under its watch, Senate Democrats stymied the 20-week abortion ban in late January, even though nearly two-thirds of Americans and a majority of Democrats and a majority of pro-choice voters support such a limitation.
But with its glossy brochures and feel-good talking points, Planned Parenthood has managed to obscure its role as a staunch Democratic-party ally. Most of Richards’s memoir is a perfect example of the method. She coats her life story in a sickly-sweet veneer of southern gentility, portraying herself as both a zealous rebel and a humble martyr, a down-to-earth Texan who relinquished her stress-free life to take up Planned Parenthood’s mantle.
She may be those things. But she’s also a Brown-educated radical progressive who since 2006 has pulled down six figures — about $700,000 as of 2016 — as president and CEO of the largest abortion provider in the United States.
Setting the tone for the entire book, Richards opens with the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) sting videos. The footage, released in summer 2015, showed Planned Parenthood medical directors haggling over prices for fetal tissue from aborted babies and discussing the harvesting methods used in clinics to preserve certain organs whole and obtain greater compensation.
In Richards’s estimation, Planned Parenthood managed to come out of that scandal smelling like a rose. She amiably refers to CMP employees as “attackers” and “kidnappers” and recycles the inaccurate claim that the videos were “misleadingly and sensationally edited.” Ignored, of course, is the fact that the CMP simultaneously released the completely unedited undercover footage in full on its website, so you can watch for yourself. Richards is banking on the assumption that you won’t.
Like too many in the abortion-rights movement, Richards relishes playing the victim, so she chews over, in painful detail, her testimony before the House Select Panel investigating the CMP videos. In a tone of virtuous disgust, she recounts how the Republican politicians questioning her “were, almost to a person, white men.” “I couldn’t believe I lived through it,” she confesses breathlessly.
At the end of this chapter, Richards says the panel “found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood,” once more relying on her readers’ ignorance. Committees in both the House and Senate reported evidence of criminal activity by Planned Parenthood clinics and referred four Planned Parenthood affiliates to the Department of Justice and FBI for further criminal investigation. Richards offers no defense on these counts, preferring instead to focus on her own outstanding bravery in the face of routine questioning.
But the most interesting part of the memoir comes near the end, when Richards recounts her meeting with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, shortly after President Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s daughter requested the meeting, hoping to find common ground on Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. She proposed a compromise: Planned Parenthood would split into two financially distinct organizations, one to perform abortions and the other to perform the women’s health services that the group claims are so essential.
Richards flatly refused. “There is no way what you are describing is going to happen,” she recalls saying to Ivanka. “Our mission is to care for women who need us, and that means caring for all their reproductive needs — including safe and legal abortion.”
Never mind that, under Ivanka’s compromise, Planned Parenthood could very easily continue performing abortions; it simply wouldn’t be able to direct its half a billion in annual federal funding toward the separate organization performing them.
In Richards’s estimation, this story is proof of her courage and of Planned Parenthood’s dedication to “women’s health.” But to the objective reader, her tale obviously undermines the claim that abortion is a tiny part of the group’s mission. As pro-lifers have noted for decades, Planned Parenthood’s services aside from abortion are mainly concentrated in STD tests and providing contraception. But both of these services are also available at more than 13,000 federally qualified health-care centers across the country, which vastly outnumber Planned Parenthood’s 600 clinics.
Meanwhile, the group’s abortion procedures dwarf essential services such as prenatal care, adoption referrals, and mammograms, the latter of which Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide at all, despite claiming otherwise. In 2016–17, Planned Parenthood performed 83 abortions for every one adoption referral and offered fewer than 8,000 prenatal-care services to pregnant mothers. A recent investigation by Live Action found that only five of 97 Planned Parenthood locations provided any prenatal care at all.
Under her leadership, Planned Parenthood has tried desperately to sanitize the practice of abortion, to brush it under the rug, to keep it out of the public eye. But when, here and there, the truth inevitably slips out, a growing number of Americans recoil.
Abortion is the most expensive procedure Planned Parenthood offers, by far, and it is a for-profit company, not a charity. In light of that fact, Richards’s refusal to accept Ivanka’s compromise looks less like steely courage and more like craven politics. And taken as a whole, her memoir illustrates exactly how difficult it is for the abortion industry to disguise the fact that its profit margin is driven by tricking women and massacring their unborn children.
Richards tries to dress abortion up in hot pink and tailored business suits, calling it “reproductive justice” and “female autonomy.” Under her leadership, Planned Parenthood has tried desperately to sanitize the practice, to brush it under the rug, to keep it out of the public eye. But when, here and there, the truth inevitably slips out, a growing number of Americans recoil.
If that trend in public opinion continues, her memoir may end up doing Planned Parenthood and the abortion-rights movement more harm than good.