RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
One of the nation's most prominent advocates for reproductive rights is stepping down. After more than a decade, Cecile Richards is preparing to resign as president of Planned Parenthood. Richards has been at the forefront of the debate over abortion that has become more politically divisive in recent years. Here she is speaking before members of Congress back in 2015.
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CECILE RICHARDS: It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, women in America are routinely harassed for accessing a legal medical procedure.
MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now to talk about this.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: What does Cecile Richards' departure mean for Planned Parenthood and the larger abortion rights movement?
MCCAMMON: Well, it comes after, you know, what's been kind of a hard year for the movement. The election of Donald Trump as president came as a surprise to many who hoped to see Hillary Clinton elected as the first female president. She, of course, is an advocate of abortion rights. And abortion opponents have celebrated several victories under Trump, both in terms of policies to restrict abortion rights and his appointment of conservatives to the courts.
But abortion rights advocates tell me, while they face challenges, it's also an encouraging and exciting moment for multiple progressive causes. Trump's election has been a rallying point. We've seen a lot of energy and organizing on the left around women's rights - think of the Women's March, more engagement from the Democratic base in the 2017 elections in Virginia, for example. So Cecile Richards leaves Planned Parenthood at a time when there is concern but also optimism.
MARTIN: Why is she leaving? I mean, what's the public - what is she saying publicly about why she's leaving, and then why is she really leaving?
MCCAMMON: Yeah, well not saying publicly all that much so far, though she is 60 and she's been with the organization for almost a dozen years - since 2006. I've been talking to some of her friends and allies. And one of them, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told me that Richards has been really instrumental in leading not just Planned Parenthood but the progressive movement over this past year against the Trump administration.
CHAD GRIFFIN: Cecile Richards is someone who is admired by millions and feared by those who dare stand in her way. And she has brilliantly brought together progressive leaders.
MCCAMMON: And Griffin says within days of the election of Donald Trump, Richards convened a group of these leaders to strategize and get ready for the next year. She's been doing that for the past year. And apparently, she sees this as the time to move on from Planned Parenthood.
MARTIN: So just because of the nature of her work, she's obviously a controversial figure in American culture and American society. What are abortion opponents saying about her resignation?
MCCAMMON: Right. There's always been a lot of criticism of Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood from anti-abortion rights groups. And largely, they're celebrating. They're glad to see her go. Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America described her legacy - Richards' legacy of leading Planned Parenthood, the group that provides about a third of the nation's abortions - she described that as sad. And Nance says she hopes Planned Parenthood will move in a new direction.
MARTIN: Do we know what she's going to do next, Ann - Cecile Richards? Ann - I almost said Ann because her mom - famously, Ann Richards was the governor of Texas. Right?
MCCAMMON: That's right. Her late mother was Texas Governor Ann Richards. And that is a possible direction she could go. I've heard some speculation that maybe she'll run for office, either in New York, where Planned Parenthood's based, or in her home state of Texas. She could continue her political activism that had been part of her entire career. And I'm also hearing there may be opportunities in academia.
Whatever she does, I know - her supporters are telling me they will continue to support her and imagine she will continue to be a leader in the progressive movement.
MARTIN: All right, NPR's Sarah McCammon.
Thanks so much, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.