How Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards Strengthened the Pro-Life Movement

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After leading Planned Parenthood for over a decade, Cecile Richards has built a legacy as one of the organization’s most effective leaders after rallying millions of new supporters to the issue of “reproductive rights.”

In doing so, she also intensified the pro-life cause among those who oppose her organization—and the broader pro-choice movement—for providing and endorsing abortion.

As evangelical sociologist (and CT board member) Michael Lindsay once wrote in 2008, “Political movements like the Religious Right don’t need a ‘god’ to succeed, but they do need a devil. Nothing builds allegiances among a coalition like a common enemy.”

Richards has proven divisive; a line in a New York Times article about her retirement states that, “Depending on whom you ask, the elegant 60-year-old is a national ‘hero’ or a ‘deeply evil woman’ and ‘mass murderer.’”

The announcement of her retirement came days after the annual March for Life and the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, two of the most popular occasions for pro-life demonstrations.

“Planned Parenthood has never been as slick and as politically savvy as it has been under the reign of Cecile Richards. That has served Planned Parenthood well, but in some ways it has served the pro-life movement well, too,” said Karen Swallow Prior, a Liberty University professor of English who has written about her own history of abortion activism.

“Richards helped turn what might once have been seen as a beleaguered public service agency into an easy target for the anti-institutional idealism of a younger generation of pro-lifers.”

As Richards led Planned Parenthood through unprecedented political shifts and turmoil since 2006, the organization remained shorthand for pro-life leaders to refer to efforts to defend abortion in America.

“Planned Parenthood now performs more than a third of all abortions in the United States and continued to be its biggest defender in the legislature and the courts,” National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) concluded in its annual report, released last week.

They attribute its continued strength, in part, to Richards’ leadership and strategy.

“Richards, frankly, has been a brilliant leader. She has navigated scandals and addressed deep problems expertly and deftly—somehow leading Planned Parenthood out of serious trouble time and time again,” said Charles Camosy, Fordham University ethics professor and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars.

“Her stepping down is a huge loss for them, as whoever comes next cannot possibly be as skilled as she was at keeping this organization from the scrutiny and justice it deserves.”

Most significantly, Richards defended Planned Parenthood amid the release of undercover videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which purported to show the organization’s involvement in illegally selling fetal remains. Last month, the Justice Department began looking into a congressional review of the videos, in what may be the groundwork for a coming investigation.

“Richards was the most devoted practitioner of Planned Parenthood’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mantra to cover up their barbaric abortion business from the public,” stated CMP. “Richards’s departure shows that the old strategy is no longer working as Planned Parenthood faces federal criminal investigation….”

Camosy said Richards “absolutely” gave momentum to the pro-life opposition and wondered whether she “decided to abandon a sinking ship” in light of the Justice Department inquiry.

Planned Parenthood has also faced ongoing efforts by some states to limit the government funding the abortion provider receives through Title X and Medicaid, as well as state laws restricting abortion.

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Source: Christianity Today