Planned Parenthood president on scandal, death threats and her abortion

Katie Couric
Global Anchor

By Sarah B. Boxer

For all the sound and fury about Planned Parenthood being defunded this year, the group’s president is confident it will not be.

“I do believe we’ll be funded,” says Cecile Richards, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News Global News Anchor Katie Couric.

However, while the group may be able to breathe a sigh of relief — knowing that 41 percent of its budget, which comes from state and federal government funding, is safe for now — Richards realizes that may not be the case if one of the current Republican candidates for president wins in 2016.

“Roe versus Wade is on the ballot. Make no mistake,” says Richards. ”In fact, everyone running, pretty much, and certainly the frontrunners for the Republican nomination make Mitt Romney look like a liberal when it comes to it, and he said he wanted to overturn Roe versus Wade.”

Richards is no stranger to politics – her mother, Ann Richards, was the governor of Texas. But she told Couric she had never seen a more anti-abortion field of Republican candidates.

“Can you imagine working with any of the GOP candidates that are currently out there?” asked Couric.

“We’ll work with anyone, any day,” said Richards. “But from both their records and their stated positions, it’s very hard to imagine that they want to do anything but roll back the clock for women in terms of access to reproductive health care.”

Couric asked if Richards could see a scenario in which the Supreme Court does, in fact, overturn Roe v. Wade in the near future.

“It’s always possible,” Richards lamented.

Richards said the current climate around women’s rights would disappoint her mother. “I think she would feel a bit like I feel, which is, it’s unimaginable that my daughters would have fewer rights than I do… Women do have fewer rights in the state of Texas than they did when I was growing up. And that is absolutely unacceptable.”

In Texas, Governor Abbot recently informed Planned Parenthood that the state is cutting off the organization from the state’s Medicaid program, citing recently released undercover videos as evidence of violations.

The videos, some of which were edited together in a way to depict Planned Parenthood employees talking about selling fetal tissue, which is illegal, rocked the organization.

Couric, who has donated to Planned Parenthood in the past, asked Richards about the kind of responses she had gotten from those who may support the organization, but found difficulty reconciling the videos.

Richards said that, in fact, the videos had galvanized the pro–abortion rights base and were nothing the organization wasn’t already armed for. “This is the 10th of these kind of undercover, hoax videos that we’ve dealt with in the past 15 years,” she told Couric. “It’s an unfortunate tactic.”

A small number of Planned Parenthood clinics do still participate in fetal tissue research, but the group has changed its policy so that it no longer receives reimbursements for fetal tissue used for research.

Richards said the reimbursements themselves were just to cover the cost of transporting the materials and making sure labs had everything needed in terms of the procedure. And she defended the research, which scientists at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute for Health engage in. “Look, fetal-tissue research led to the polio vaccine. It’s now being used in research on Parkinson’s, on Alzheimer’s, on almost every major disease that we’re dealing with in America.”

The furor around the videos has extended beyond Capitol Hill, however — vandalism has increased at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, making it more difficult, says Richards, to find clinicians willing to work there. “Given this current environment and the hostility that some of the extremists have and their willingness to kind of go to these depths to shame doctors, it’s very tough.”

Nonetheless, Richards hopes that people continue to come forward in favor of reproductive rights, with some even telling the stories of their own abortions.  For the first time in an interview, Richards opened up to Couric about her own abortion.

“It was a decision my husband and I made. It was a personal decision. And we have three children that we adore and that are the center of my life. And we decided that was as big as our family needed to be,” says Richards. “It wasn’t anything more dramatic than that. But I can’t imagine a woman being in that circumstance — with an unintended pregnancy and not being able to make her own decision about that pregnancy.”