Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.
Q&A with Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, was in Cedar Rapids Thursday to serve as the keynote speaker for the 30th anniversary of Planned Parenthood of East Central Iowa.
Before she took the stage that evening, Richards sat down with The Iowa Independent and spoke at length about the progress that has been made in Iowa for women, the continued need for Planned Parenthood even in the state’s most progressive regions and the hope for finding common ground.
The full interview, edited only for grammatical clarification and reader understanding, is after the jump.
Nationally, there seems to be less of a emphasis on reversing Roe v. Wade, and more of an emphasis on limiting access to abortion services. This especially seems to have come to a head in Iowa recently because Planned Parenthood has begun to use closed-circuit video conferencing to administer pills for medical abortions, effectively increasing access for women who live in the state’s more rural areas. Are those who are against abortion highlighting this so emphatically because they see it as a direct assault to a strategy that seemed to be working?
I think that medical technology is changing so many things in medical care, including women’s reproductive health care. I think telemedicine is an incredibly important advance, particularly for women in rural areas. The folks that protest, they don’t want women to receive any reproductive health care. It’s not only the issue of abortion, but the broader issue of birth control and family planning services.
That’s been going on since Margaret Sanger was arrested 95 years ago when she opened the first birth control center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Unfortunately, some folks are just focused on preventing women from getting the health care that they need. I hope to live to see the day when that is no longer true.
Another somewhat recent change for those who are against abortion is marketing of their policy stances as pro-woman. Has that been effective?
No, I don’t think so. Women make hard decisions throughout their lives. We have children. We raise families. The thought that we need protesters to protect us when we are about to make some of the most important decisions we make as women, is something that really falls flat. It’s something that women just don’t buy.
I believe that one of the important things that we stress at Planned Parenthood is that we should trust women to make the best decisions. That’s what we do as a medical provider. We give women all their options — whether it is about family planning or whether to continue a pregnancy. It is remarkable how smart, intelligent and thoughtful women are when making decisions.
Iowa is the first in the nation to use the video conferencing to administer medical abortions remotely, and numerous women have already chosen this service. Of those women, have there been any who have had complications or problems?
No. In some states medication abortion can be provided by advance practice clinicians. It is very safe. Here in Iowa, of course, women not only are counseled by clinicians… but then they actually have a conference with a doctor about medication abortion. It’s very safe and very effective. It’s an incredibly important option for women who decide to terminate a pregnancy.
One of the criticisms that I’ve seen against this program is that Planned Parenthood is using lower cost and inferior medications, allegedly to increase profits. Is that the case?
It is really unbelievable the lengths that some people will go to try to prevent women from having access to health care services.
We are so proud of Planned Parenthood’s medical providers. We see 3 million patients a year, and one in every four women in America has been to a Planned Parenthood health center. That’s because of the excellent medical care we provide. That’s what we stake our reputation on. We would never do anything to damage that or provide anything less than 100 percent excellent care to women in this country and in the state of Iowa.
In general, eastern Iowa is a fairly progressive place, and women in this area have several options when it comes to accessing health care. Why is it important for Planned Parenthood to remain here and be one of those options?
We’ve been here for 30 years in this area. We see now, for both education and health care services, nearly 10,000 residents [a year] in this area. I believe, actually, with the new health care law there will be increased opportunities for women to access both Planned Parenthood and other service providers. I think it not only important that we are here — obviously we provide vital health care services — but that we are here to expand. As more and more women get access to health care, they find a Planned Parenthood health care center.
The average women in America, if she wants to have children, she wants to have an average of two. So she spends about five years getting pregnant and having those children, but she spends an average of 30 years trying to prevent an unintended pregnancy. If there is any reason that Planned Parenthood needs to continue to exist, whether it is in Cedar Rapids or any other place in America, it is because that is a lot of health care. I think of that as 30 years times about 60 million women in America. That’s a lot of family planning that’s needed for all women in this country.
We are seeing in Massachusetts, which passed health care reform a couple of years ahead of the rest of the country, our clinics literally being flooded with women who have a new insurance card and are so excited that they can access affordable family planning. I think we are going to see the same thing around the country, including in Iowa.
Because our state has had progressive leanings, monies for family planning services and other advances have been approved by our state legislature. In neighboring states, however, that has not been the case. Are there things that residents of Iowa who support Planned Parenthood and better access to care can do to impact neighboring states?
You have made a lot of advances here in Iowa for women and for women’s health. Folks in Nebraska are excited about learning from that experience, and helping to expand health care in Nebraska as well. I think that leading by example is really important, as is supporting your local Planned Parenthood as a volunteer or a donor.
We are the single biggest provider of reproductive health care in America and, again, I think because of the new health care law that is only going to grow. We are thankful for the support whether in Cedar Rapids or anywhere else in America.
A lot has been written about finding common ground on abortion, but is that really possible with everyone? For instance, is there common ground that could be found with those protesting outside tonight?
I don’t think there is common ground with folks who commit violence against providers — which is a very select group of folks who I don’t think have an interest in common ground. But I would say the vast majority of Americans are very supportive of Planned Parenthood and women’s health care and recognize that while they may differ on the issue of abortion that, at the end of the day, they can’t make that decision for every woman. I think that is where there is an enormous amount of common ground.
We even saw that in the state of South Dakota. That is obviously a very conservative state, but, when there was an opportunity on the ballot two times to ban all abortions in that state, voters who would describe themselves as pro-life and do describe themselves as pro-life voted down that abortion ban. They did so in large part, I believe, because every woman’s circumstance is different and it is very difficult to say what you would do if that were yourself, your daughter or your granddaughter.
I think the other area where we’ve found common ground, especially while working with health care reform, is the idea that the preventive care that we provide and that a lot of women need is so sorely underfunded and inaccessible. We are really interested in this new health care bill. There is an opportunity now to have all preventative care for women be available for free under the new insurance plans. We believe that birth control is the most basic of preventative care that you can have if you are a woman. More than 90 percent of women use birth control. So we are really working hard with folks across all aisles — parties, beliefs — to say that birth control is something that should be basically available at free or very low cost for all women in America. That would an enormous amount to reduce intended pregnancy in this country, and to reduce the abortion rate for those for whom that is a concern.