Cecile Richards

Speech at Democratic Candidate Training Summit - June 11, 2022

Cecile Richards
June 11, 2022— Austin, Texas
Print friendly

Welcome to the state where some of our politicians want folks to run around anywhere with assault weapons but you can go to jail for making your own decisions about your pregnancy, right? I mean, sorry about that. So, as this last panel said, we got a lot to do. Thank you arena for doing this, for bringing together this awesome group of people. And, it's exciting - I just actually left the March For Our Lives rally at the Capital and I just will say invest in young people. That is my entire mantra, right? Invest in young people, so inspiring and I'm thrilled to know that you're going to get to hear from Judge Lena [inaudible], and I think she's speaking later so you've got a lot of good stuff in store for you. I - there is just no more important time and no more important place to be doing this work and to be organizing so thanks, thanks for making the time to be here.

You know, it's interesting, I get asked, it seems like now like pretty much everyday by usually by a reporter, you know, "do you think that now abortion is gonna motivate voters in November?" And it's kind of irritating, honestly. It feels like as if somehow losing a right that we have had in this country for nearly fifty years to determine our pregnancies is somehow going to be some kind of quick tactical fix, right, for the November elections, right? I don't like that feeling at all because that's not what organizing and that's not what movement building is about. So I've kind of been at my witt's end. But someone sent me this great quote from Angela Davis, which I'm just going to read you. It was, "movements require time to develop and mature. They don't just happen spontaneously. They recur as a result of organizing and hardwork that most often happens behind the scenes." Am I right? Exactly, right. So that's, and I mean that is what you're doing here today, is like the hardwork. You know, the unglamorous, sometimes frustrating work. But also, the inspiring and joyful work of building the world we want to live in. So let's do that, ok?

So I was born in Waco, I started out as a union organizer, so all props to the labor movement for being here today and for the work they do to change lives every single day in this country. You know I started out working in the Mexico-Texas border organizing garment workers, then I married a union organizer, then I had three activist kids, and frankly I've been an organiaer my entire life. And I think that's part of why these days are so tough because I feel like even though as an organizer, you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, and then you win and it's so huge. But I feel like now, it's a very tough time. And on this topic of abortion, we didn't get here because we lost the American people on abortion, we actually, we didn't. We're here because of a republican party that is more intent on building power for themselves than preserving our democracy and focus on winning at all costs regardless of the price that people in this country have to pay.

Today in Texas, in case you haven't been following the news, you can not get a legal, you can not get access to a legal abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy, full stop. And as we know that's before a lot of folks even know that they're pregnant. So, picture a student in Texas Tech in Lubbock, who comes to the planned parenthood and finds out not only is she pregnant, but that in order to get an abortion, it's completely illegal in Lubbock and she'll have to drive 5 hours away to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Or a patient who recently came to the doctor in El Paso and found out that she was going to need a surgical abortion, but that would mean driving to another state and passing through a border checkpoint, which she couldn't do. Women realizing that they will have to go to Mississippi or Louisiana, but due to the numbers of people that are now fleeing the state of Texas for the same reasons, there are no appointments for at least a month, right? This is what it looks like to live in a state where people have lost the control over their own bodies, to make their own personal decisions about pregnancy. Two weeks ago I actually spoke to a high risk OBGYN in Dallas, Texas, who talked to me about the medical crises that her patients are facing, yet she can't even talk openly to them, as their doctor, about what their options are. Doctors having to find other doctors in other states that they can trust, putting nothing in writing. For patients, health care providers, volunteers, Texas politicians have basically created a police state, where neighbors can turn in other neighbors, where people can't speak to their clergy, or their friends, or their family, or their doctor, without putting everyone at risk. This is of course before the Supreme Court even hands down the ruling that we are expecting now, any day.

So, as organizers, as campaigners, as activists and candidates, we gotta be ready to turn this crisis into action. Am I right? Ok, alright. Because what's gonna happen here is millions of Americans are going to wake up one morning and learn that a right that they'd counted on was just stripped away by five unelected judges on the Supreme Court. That's right, that's what's gonna happen. And we're seeing it here in Texas, but as the panel before us said, we're just the beginning, right, this is coming to a theater near you. So, there are three things I want to tell you today: one, why it matters. two, what comes next. three, what you can do.

So one thing, just like a little historical perspective because many of you probably haven't even had to deal with this issue before, but the right to access legal abortion completely reshaped life for women in this country, over the past fifty years. As a result of Roe, women were able to finish school, persue careers, they were able to actually support themselves and their families, if they decided to have a family. The rate of teen pregnancy dropped by 34% after Roe. Women became lawyers and they became astronauts and scientists and one of them became the Vice President of the United States of America, right? I mean, shit happened. Roe saved lives, maternal mortality in this country, among black women dropped by 30-40%. That was largely due to the fact that - and this is something to really understand - and that was largely because in the states where abortion was illegal, black women were less able than white women to leave the state and travel to another place, a fact that underscores exactly what is happening today. Which is, any abortion ban is going to be proportionally harmful to people of color. Access to legal abortion also improved the lives of kids. Child abuse went down in this country, child poverty went down, and the likelihood that young people could finish school went up, right? These are all good things that happened as a result of legalized abortion. And what's more, and this is another thing you need to know, is that abortion became incredibly safe. In fact, it's safer to have an abortion than to get your wisdom teeth out. Ok? Just wrap your brain around that. And especially, and unfortunately here in the United States, it's safer than a pregnancy.

So if Roe vs Wade is overturned as many of us expet that it will be, an even more restrictive wall is now going to go into effect in Texas that bans all abortions. Full stop. Forget six weeks, full stop. It'll criminalize doctors and doctors will be - potentially puts doctors in jail for a life sentence. And it's not just Texas. In all, we think 26 states in this country are likely to partially or completely ban abortion, which is going to create complete chaos for anyone seeking access to care. And just like the attacks that we're seeing in Texas and around the country on voting rights, on transgender people, these laws are going to especially impact folks in rural areas, young people, people of color, the same people who already face the biggest challenges to accessing afforable, reliable healthcare. And I just have to point out the hypocrisy of the people who are doing this to us. People who, politicians who claim to care about children.

I'm just going to use Mississippi as an example, but Texas is a good example too. So Mississippi is the state - we have any Mississippi folk in the room? Ok go! Thank you, welcome, welcome. I am so glad you are here. So you know this story too, right? - Mississippi, the case where the abortion ban is now before the Supreme Court, poorest state in the country, the maternal mortality rate is twice the national average, and the same legislature that voted to ban abortion in Mississippi, also voted down a bill that would've provided new mothers on Medicaid, 12 months of healthcare. You know how long you get as a new mom after delivery, how much healthcare you get? Two months, in Mississippi.

And the sad reality is today, we live in a country where a woman today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother. And that number is even higher for black women. This is outrageous. And all of this, I think is part of the reason why voters in this country do not want abortion bans and that includes the people of the state of Texas. So, and I was actually just pulling up the Texas poll again, more than two-thirds of people in this country overwhelmingly, this is overwhelming, they believe that people that are pregnant, not politicians, should make decisions about pregnancy. That includes republicans, that includes independents, men and women, and it includes Texans.

So here's the good news, if you're running for office, or you're working on a campagin, know this: it's not only the right thing to do, it's the political smart thing to do, to stand up for the right of people to make their own decisions about their pregnancy. Period, end of sentence. Okay, got that, let's go.

Which brings me to, I guess the organizer part in me, which is like "what can we do?" because it's overwhelming, right? It's overwhelming. So here's some ideas. Number one, support the people who are helping people get access to abortion, alright? That may mean financially supporting abortion funds, there's so many great groups; Janes Due Process, the Lillith Fund, Fund Texas Choice, there's so many here in the state of Texas and of course around the country. Support abortion providers here, Planned Parenthood, Whole Women's Health, other folks. One day I just send pizzas to all of the abortion providers at Planned Parenthood. Just do things, send them letters, let them know that we see them, and that we appreciate them and the hard work that they are doing, because it is not easy to sit in the room and have a woman or a patient come to you and say "I cannot provide you care, not because I don't have the medical expertise, but because the politicians have gotten in the way of you and your healthcare."

Ok, number two, tell your own story, if you have one and if you can. I was just on a podcast this week with the minister in Dallas and their church now assists folks, actually takes people to New Mexico who need access to abortion. And so that was one of the reasons I was interested in kind of learning, but what was interesting to me was he told his own abortion story, about being part of an unintended pregnancy when he was in college. And so every time we stand up and say, when you talk about abortion, you're talking about me, it reduces the stigma and shame that have, that has existed for our entire lifetime. So, I had an abortion just so you know, and I talk about it all the time.

Alright, number three, get to know the folks who represent you, if you don't already know, and if they're not talking and not speaking up about this issue, prod them and poke them and make them do it. And if they're really not, then go run against them. That's what we need to do.

Number four, get in the streets. This is not going to happen, this is not going to happen online. This is going to happen because people get in the streets and say "we will not live in a country where we do not have our rights."

Number five, vote. And number six, put this arena training to use and run for office or sign up and work on a campaign. This is no time to wait for instructions, no one's coming to save us and this is the time to do something that scares you. As a great labor organizer, mother Jones said, "I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell raiser." And that is the orientation we have to have today. And I feel like if you need inspiration, if you feel like you're beat down, just look around you.

I'll close with this last story. Last fall I came to Austin to speak at a rally against SBA, which is the abortion ban here. And there were thousands of people and amazing signs and of course there's always a woman of a certain age with a handmade poster reading "I can't believe I still have to protest this shit." But the person I remember best was Vienna, she's a seventh grader here in Austin, and she spoke. And when she first learned about the abortion ban, she was so furious she started organizing her middle school. Right, that's where it all starts, in middle school. Anyway, pretty soon other middleschoolers are calling her and saying "ok well what are we supposed to do?" and so they started organizing. And then when the Supreme Court opinion leaked out, she joined hundreds of students here in Austin, Texas on walking out of their schools. And then that night, actually she texted me, she wrote "we need to do something big and loud to let everyone know we won't go down without a fight. And we need to do something fast." That's Vienna, seventh grade. She's right, because it is easy to feel discouraged, let's be honest.

There's nothing we can do that could possibly be enough in the face of so much injustice. And I've had some low moments, a lot, these last few weeks, but that's okay. If we weren't feeling low about this, we wouldn't be paying attention. But then I think about Vienna, who at 13, actually she just spoke at the March for Our Lives today at the capital, she's on a roll and I just feel like knowing that she's doing something, it's always always better than doing nothing. Along with her fellow students she's putting one foot in front of the other, because there's simply no other option when it comes to building the future we deserve. The story of activism is "everything is impossible until it is done." So take it from me, the people you meet today, you may know them the rest of your lives. You're going to be in this struggle together.

Thanks for being here, for putting your heart and soul into organizing, and into this work. We have some tough days ahead, but I know we can do this together and build a kind of world we deserve to live in. Thanks for having me.

"Cecile Richards Speaks at Democratic Candidate Training Summit." C-SPAN video. Jun 11, 2022. https://www.c-span.org/video/?520849-3/cecile-richards-speaks-democratic-candidate-training-summit