The long-time president of abortion-rights advocacy organization Planned Parenthood announced on Friday she would be stepping down from her post.
Cecile Richards, who has been at the head of the organization since 2006, made the announcement in an interview with The New York Times, though reports of her leaving surfaced earlier this week.
“Leading Planned Parenthood over the last 12 years has been the honor of my lifetime,” Richards said in a statement. “Together, we have made real progress in this country, expanding access to services and making reproductive rights a central priority of our nation’s health care system.”
Under Richards’ leadership, Planned Parenthood has grown its supporters to 11 million. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 75 percent of the public supports Medicaid money going to Planned Parenthood for services that do not include abortion.
Richards plans to discuss the next steps for the organization and 2018 at Planned Parenthood’s upcoming board meeting, according to a spokesperson.
“Cecile has helped launch a nationwide movement to defend and advance women’s rights, and in doing so, she has inspired countless women to march, vote, run and win,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Her leadership will be deeply missed, but I am confident that Cecile will continue to be a warrior for all women as she begins the next chapter of her journey.” Richards previously served as a staffer for Pelosi.
“Cecile has shown what it means to be a true fighter for the rights of women,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. “She put inclusive access to reproductive health care at the forefront of the political conversation and has shown it is not only key to women’s well-being, but also to true equality.”
But her tenure has not been without controversy. Planned Parenthood has steadily been the prime target of anti-abortion groups, and attempts to defund the organization have surfaced regularly at the state and national level.
“Cecile 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,” said David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group. “Planned Parenthood’s new leadership should commit to full transparency with the Department of Justice and with the public, and to ending this taxpayer-funded criminal abortion enterprise once and for all.”
Daleiden’s organization secretly recorded video of Planned Parenthood, alleging the organization was selling fetal body parts. Planned Parenthood maintains that the videos are edited and misleading.
“Richards has deceived the American people about the harmful impacts of abortion and the ugly realities of the predatory industry that she leads,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins.
Richards says she does not plan to stop fighting for her cause, even after she leaves her post.
“I’ve been an activist my entire life — and that won’t stop any time soon,” Richards said.