Cecile Richards has been president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America since February 2006, and is the first PPFA president in history to have a background solely in politics instead of health care.
Richards is daughter of the late governor Ann Richards (D-TX) and David Richards, and is the oldest of their four children. Richards was immersed in political activism from youth, helping her mother campaign for victorious Roe v. Wade lawyer Sarah Weddington for the Texas state legislature at the age of 16.
In 1980, Richards graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in history.
Richards, who was raised Unitarian and later became a Methodist, took particular interest in counteracting the influence of conservative Christian groups in Texas. In 1995, Richards founded the Texas Freedom Network with the goal of advancing “a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right,” particularly with regards to educational issues such as school prayer and evolution vs. creationism (H.W. Wilson).
In 1998, Richards turned down the opportunity to succeed Bill White as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, telling Ken Herman of the Austin American-Statesman that “[f]or the first time, we really faced what being a full-time party chair would require and the sacrifices it would mean for us as a family” (H.W. Wilson).
She was by then a mother of three children, and her husband, Kirk Adams, soon afterward accepted a position with the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., and they moved there next. While in Washington, Richards also worked for the AFL-CIO, as well as working for the Turner Foundation and creating and presiding over the largest 527 political action committee of the 2000 election season – Pro-Choice Vote (H.W. Wilson).
In 2002, Richards began working for then-minority whip (soon after minority leader) of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as her deputy chief of staff. A couple of years later, Richards became president of America Votes, a liberal coalition designed to “advance progressive policies, expand access to the ballot, coordinate issue advocacy and election campaigns, and protect every American’s right to vote,” particularly to help select and advance a Democratic presidential candidate when George W. Bush was in office.
On February 15, 2006, Richards became president of PPFA, succeeding previous president Gloria Feldt and interim president Karen Pearl.
Later that year, Jennifer Baumgardner reported the following about Richards for The Nation:
The forces eroding reproductive rights, from abortion to contraception, are many: an increasingly organized and growing prolife movement, millions of federal dollars dedicated to abstinence-only education and younger women and men raised with Roe v. Wade who increasingly don’t identify with prochoice–as a term or a movement.
Cecile Richards wants to beat back all of those forces. During a June address to the progressive group Take Back America, Richards said: “We have the potential to swing the vote in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and that’s a lot of power. The question is, What are we going to do with it? And the answer is, We’re going to use it. We’re going to marry our current reality as the largest reproductive healthcare provider in this country with our opportunity to be the largest kickass advocacy organization in the country…. We’re taking on the opponents of choice in the states and the districts where they live. Planned Parenthood is going to become more political so that healthcare can become less politicized.” (Cue thunderous applause.)
In 2010, Richards received an honorary doctorate from Brown University. Richards also received the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship in 2010, which is “an annual award in the amount of $100,000 given to an individual who has challenged the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative and socially responsible work of significance.”
Richards is also a trustee of the Ford Foundation.
Richards is married to Kirk Adams, international executive vice president of the labor union SEIU, and they live in New York City with their children Lily, Hannah, and Daniel (the youngest two are twins).
Original source: Current Biography
Original publication date: 2007
Original publication type: Print
Publisher of original publication: The H. W. Wilson Company
Database publisher: The H.W. Wilson Company
Database: Biography Reference Bank