Cecile Richards: "This Is Not a Theoretical Conversation About Roe. It's Real."

Anyone who assumed Cecile Richards's decision to step down as the president of Planned Parenthood earlier this year amounted to "retirement" doesn't know much about Cecile Richards. The lifelong activist left the organization in April, only to set out on a book tour in support of her (excellent) memoir Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead and keep up a busy schedule as a front-lines voice for feminism. Now, Richards is making the rounds to rally support behind the movement to stop Brett Kavanaugh — a judge with an anti-abortion track record who has the stamp of approval from the far-right Federalist Society — from being confirmed to the Supreme Court.

"Women are very aware that other women are doing things that are extraordinary."

We met with Richards over coffee and cookies in LA on a Sunday afternoon, just before she took the stage with fellow activists and celebrities at Rise Up For Roe. The national tour, which wraps up in Des Moines, IA, on Aug. 24, is dedicated to stopping a Kavanaugh appointment in its tracks. Richards shared her advice on how we can mobilize if Roe is eventually overturned, the role she plans to play in the 2018 election — she's still not running, people — and what she's learned from her two adult daughters in light of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements.

POPSUGAR: You're still putting a lot of support behind Planned Parenthood and staying involved. Do you think under a different reality maybe you would have stepped back a little more, or felt like you could take a break? Or is that even in your nature?
Cecile Richards: I mean, it's probably not in my nature. And also, I didn't really leave because I was burned out. I think I just felt like I had done what I'd set out to do at Planned Parenthood. And the organization — the movement — is much stronger. I felt like there are a lot of women in this country who are worried about a lot of issues, including their access to reproductive health care. They're worried about their pay. They're worried about their parents, their kids, their education. And I thought, "I want to start talking to women about a broad array of issues." To use this moment we have, where women are the most unbelievable political force in the country, and try to make all of this add up to be more.

PS: I was looking at some recent interviews you've done and speeches you've given before this interview. Your recent speech where you said, "the future is Latina," I found, got tons of pick-up on far-right sites — with no further analysis or critique or anything — just presented on its own.
CR: Oh really? Like it's a menace? [laughter] That is amazing. You obviously have probably spent more time seeing what people reacted to than I did. I think the truth is, if I had been supporting a political system that just lifted up white men, I'd be worried, too. Because that's not where the action is right now. And it is really exciting to see these young women defying everybody's expectations. I don't think it's going to stop, because they all feed on each other. The success of one woman absolutely generates excitement by other women and it just keeps growing.

PS: You have two adult daughters. I'm curious to know how they've informed your views and if there's anything that they have gotten you to come around on?
CR: I think the generational education going on around the #MeToo Movement and Time's Up is profound. There are so many things I think women of my generation just dealt with, like, "Well, that's just how it is." You didn't want to derail your career, or you didn't want to rock the boat. And I find that my daughters are just having none of it. That has been really a good education for me: to recognize that there's no reason that any woman should put up with sexual harassment, sexual assault, belittling behavior. Hannah and Lily definitely were way far ahead of me, as are other women of that generation.

PS: If Roe goes away, what do we do?
CR: What would happen, and has already happened, is that women will lose access to abortion. I think we're going to actually have to go back to square one and fight it out state by state, and I think women are prepared to do that. But, unfortunately, as you know, what will happen is women with low incomes, women who live in the Southern United States, women who have all kinds of other barriers to health care — those are the women who are going to get hit the hardest. If Roe goes away, rich women will still be able to get an abortion. They always have and always will.

Abortion existed before Roe, it was just unsafe and women died. And that is what I believe will happen again. I think sometimes about, "What was my biggest worry of Planned Parenthood in those 12 years?" And it was that women were going to have to start dying again for people to ever pay attention. But I'm encouraged, actually, just seeing the polling on Kavanaugh. [He's] so unpopular, so unpopular among women. I think folks are recognizing that this is not a theoretical conversation about Roe. It's real.

PS: Do you think that the tide's turning as far as how serious people take midterms in 2018?
CR: That's what I think we're all eager to see. I've been waiting for this day since the day after the last election. And I think a lot of women in this country have been. But we also know the number one reason people don't vote is no one asks them to. People ask me, "What can I do?" Talk to the people you know, talk to your friends, talk to your girlfriends about why this election matters. You can make a huge difference. And we already have seen that with women [running for office]. When I go around the country, women are very aware that other women are doing things that are extraordinary.

PS: I know everybody always asks you about running for office. But have you figured out a specific role that you want to take on when it comes to the year 2018 or 2020?
CR: [In] 2018, I'm completely focused on getting more women to vote. Millions of women who vote in presidential years do not vote in the off year for a whole host of reasons, and we don't make it easy for women to vote. But I've been in 12 states talking to women . . . and I think there is a profound interest in and focus on the elections. Women can completely make the difference in November 2018. And then, of course, they can in November 2020, as well.