Full Show: The Crusade Against Reproductive Rights

Welcome. In the 40-plus years since the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion
with its Roe v. Wade decision, conservatives and the religious right have crusaded to overturn
it, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. NEWS ANNOUNCER:
Now in 1994, the violence reaches an all-time high. BILL MOYERS:
Thanks to a sustained legal strategy in particular, which includes achieving a Supreme Court majority
of five conservative Catholic men, all appointed by Republican presidents, they have been inching
toward success. This session alone, the court limited health insurance coverage for contraception
and made it easier for protesters to demonstrate outside abortion clinics. Meanwhile, several states have already passed
regulations that effectively restrict access to safe, legal clinics. More than half the
American women of reproductive age now live in states hostile to abortion access. Let
me repeat that: more than half the women of reproductive age now live in states hostile
to their constitutional right. In Washington, Senate Democrats have introduced
the Women’s Health Protection Act to counter those state and local restrictions on reproductive
freedom. At a hearing this week voices were heard both for and against the bill: NANCY NORTHRUP:
This is the newest tactic in a four decade campaign to deprive women of the promise of
Roe v. Wade. There have been, during those four decades, terrorizing physical attacks,
clinics bombed, vandalized and torched, doctors and clinic workers murdered, and clinics blockaded.
[…] Today, women’s access to abortion services is being blocked through an avalanche of pretextual
laws that are designed to accomplish by the pen what could not be accomplished through
brute force: the closure of facilities providing essential reproductive healthcare to women
of this country. At an alarming rate, states are passing laws that single out reproductive
health providers for excessively burdensome regulations designed to regulate them out
of practice under the false pretense of health and safety. TED CRUZ:
The legislation this committee is considering is extreme legislation. It is legislation
designed to eliminate reasonable restrictions on abortion that states across this country
have put in place. […] And it is also a very real manifestation of a war on women
given the enormous health consequences that unlimited abortion has had damaging the health,
and sometimes even the lives of women. BILL MOYERS:
We’ll talk about these and other developments now with Cecile Richards. Since she became
president of the Planned Parenthood Federation in 2006, the number of its supporters has
doubled to seven million. Before her current position, she organized low-wage workers in
the hotel and health care fields in California, and founded the Texas Freedom Network to champion
civil liberties and religious freedom in her native state. She also served as deputy chief
of staff to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the House. Cecile Richards, welcome. CECILE RICHARDS:
Thanks for having me. BILL MOYERS:
An impartial observer looking on could reasonably conclude that you’re losing the political
battle over abortion. CECILE RICHARDS:
I actually don’t think that’s correct. Now, I will say that in 2010 the elections where
frankly the Tea Party swept into the US House of Representatives and took over state legislatures
and they have had a very clear agenda which is to roll back women’s access. But whenever
these issues are actually on the ballot, whether in a candidate, or even, I’ll just give you
an example. The state of Mississippi where, you know,
the far right tried to push the legislature, pushed a bill that would’ve outlawed abortion
in that state. The voters of Mississippi, not a progressive state I don’t think we’d
say, they overwhelmingly, rejected that. BILL MOYERS:
Yet 14 years ago a third of women of reproductive age lived in states considered hostile to
abortion access. Now more than half do. Why is that not losing? CECILE RICHARDS:
I don’t think it’s the states, I think it’s the state legislatures. I do think the state
legislatures have moved dramatically to the right, and not just on women’s issues, on
a whole, on voting rights issues, on a whole host of issues. Unfortunately, a wing of the Republican Party,
the most extreme wing that believes abortion should not be legal, that believes birth control
should not be available are really in charge of the primary process. BILL MOYERS:
Is it conceivable to you that your opponents have won the moral argument, that is they’ve
convinced enough people in conservative circles that abortion is morally wrong, leaving politicians
that you talk about no choice but to go where the voters lead? CECILE RICHARDS:
I fundamentally disagree with that. People, look, and we at Planned Parenthood talk to
voters a lot, talk to the public a lot. People in this country believe that abortion is a
very personal and often complex issue. They overwhelmingly believe, though, again that
these are personal, private decisions that women have to be able to make with their doctors,
with their family, with their loved ones. And that the last thing they want is politicians
making the most personal decisions for a family, that is, again, that crosses party line, that
crosses gender, age. And young people in this country can’t imagine going back to a time
where abortion was illegal and not available. BILL MOYERS:
You put your finger on the paradox. Surveys show the majority of Americans believe a woman
and her doctor, not politicians, should be making these decisions. 68 percent of young
Americans believe abortion services should be available where they live. Why doesn’t
that translate into political success? CECILE RICHARDS:
I think it does. And I’ll give you a couple of examples, but we have a long way to go.
I give you that. I, the last presidential election to me was quite interesting. I mean,
that was by all, you know, was going to be a very close election by all accounts. But
we had two candidates, you know, Mitt Romney who said he wanted to overturnRoe,
that he wanted to get rid of Planned Parenthood, President Obama who strongly supported women’s
rights. We had the biggest gender gap ever in polling
in a presidential election. And we just saw this in the Virginia governor’s race. Fascinating.
You know, a race that I think folks thought was going to be very, very tough. Where you
had two candidates. Terry McAuliffe, who supported women’s access to birth control, Planned Parenthood. Ken Cuccinelli, the sitting attorney general,
who opposed basically all of women’s rights. That, I would say that election was decided
by women, you know? There was a nine point gender gap for Terry McAuliffe. He won that
race by about two and a half points. So it’s when women know what’s at stake and they go
out to vote, they can determine pretty much any election in the country. BILL MOYERS:
So given that, how do you explain that in our home state. Governor Rick Perry said that
he intends to make abortion, “a thing of the past.” He’s succeeding there. CECILE RICHARDS:
Well, actually I disagree. He’s not making abortion a thing of the past. He’s making
safe and legal abortion a thing of the past. And I think this is what’s very distressing
and is that what, of course, the impact of these regulations are disproportionately felt
on low income women, on women who are, live in rural areas of the state. We’re having women now go across the border
to Mexico because they can’t access legal abortion in the state of Texas. So again,
you know, our goal at Planned Parenthood is to make abortion safe and legal and to help
women get preventive care that they need to reduce unintended pregnancy in the first place.
Unfortunately Governor Perry is doing away with all of that. When the governor and the legislature started
going after women’s health care in the state, ending the women’s health program, dozens
of health centers that didn’t provide abortion services had to shut down because they served
low income women and they didn’t have the funds to continue. BILL MOYERS:
There was a story out of Houston the other day that there’s now an underground railroad
for women seeking abortion services. CECILE RICHARDS:
Absolutely, I think what we’re seeing is pre-Roeactivities now of women trying to figure out
how to get around the country because there are increasingly states where you may have
a legal right to an abortion, but effectively you have no access. In Texas it’s really in
some ways the test case for all of these restrictions. We’re going to, I think, this fall by September
when all of these regulations come into effect, we’ll see in a state as large as, that’s as
large as the country of France there’ll be seven, probably seven health centers left
in the state of Texas where women can access a safe and legal abortion. BILL MOYERS:
Down from what? CECILE RICHARDS:
Oh dozens. But I think the thing that’s important, Bill, is that it’s far beyond that. Because
the impact is certainly on the ability to access abortion services, but it also has
been devastating on women’s ability to even access family planning and basic preventive
I hear you saying and you and others that the constitutional right expressed in Roe
v. Wade has hit the hard rock of political reality. Is Roe being rendered null and void
by politics? CECILE RICHARDS:
Well, we’re seeing some states, yes, where I believe the state legislatures are hollowing
out the rights under Roe in every conceivable way. I think this court as well is, has been
more sympathetic to those efforts to undermine women’s access. Again, not only to safe and
legal abortion, but certainly to birth control as well. And that’s very worrisome. BILL MOYERS:
Do you really think that Women’s Health Protection Act that was debated this week could undo
some of the damage being caused by this onslaught of regulations? CECILE RICHARDS:
Absolutely. And I think it’s so important. Essentially what the Women’s Health Protection
Act does is says you have to treat women’s reproductive health care and abortion access
like you do all other medical procedures, really to try to stem the tide of these extreme
bills that are being passed that are created enormous barriers for women to just access
basic legal rights. BILL MOYERS:
You heard Senator Cruz call it extreme legislation. He says the state restrictions on abortions
are, and I’m quoting him, “reasonable,” and are intended to protect the health and safety
of women. He also says it’s people like you and your allies who are waging this war on
women by supporting unlimited abortion that has sometimes cost women their lives. CECILE RICHARDS:
Well, I just, I don’t even know where to start. It is ironic that he comes from the state
of Texas where the restrictions upon women’s ability to access again preventive care, family
planning, safe and legal abortion have never been worse. What we’re seeing in Texas is as radical as
any state in the country in terms of eliminating women’s ability to plan their families. And,
you know, I would also say to Senator Cruz it’s really important to recognize this is
not a partisan issue for women. Women, 99 percent of women in this country
use family planning, okay. So that’s a news flash, I think something he ought to look
at. 98 percent of Catholic women have used family
planning at some point. So for women, birth control is not a moral issue. It’s not a social
issue. It is a basic healthcare issue. It’s an economic issue. And women, men, the majority of this country
supportsRoe, they support women being able to make their own decisions about
their pregnancies. And they, I can absolutely guarantee what they don’t want is politicians
making the most personal, private decisions that women and their families make. BILL MOYERS:
What is your response to what some of your opponents say that abortion is vastly different
from other procedures and therefore needs higher medical standards? Is there any merit
in that argument? CECILE RICHARDS:
Absolutely none. I mean, again, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the
country. And so it is, this is, and I think it, look, it’s something I think we have to
talk about is that it is, this is something that has, one of the most incredible things
that I think that has happened since the Roe decision, and I talk to doctors who were around
pre-Roe who said, you know, routinely young healthy women were dying in emergency rooms
across this country simply because they had no access to terminate a pregnancy in a medical
setting. So, look, we’ve have had politicians admit
it. You know, they say that they’re for women’s health and safety, but they’re not. They simply
want to close down access to abortion services and as Governor Perry said, make abortion
in his words, “a thing of the past.” BILL MOYERS:
If the services continue to be closed down as is happening in Texas, why can’t hospitals
start taking up the slack? Couldn’t they offer patients considerably more privacy, for example,
than these health centers where there are protestors outside confronting the women? CECILE RICHARDS:
Well, I mean, look, I’m very grateful to hospitals that do provide abortion services. And I would
hope more of them would be. I mean, as you know, many of the hospitals in this country
now are owned by the Catholic Church or have Catholic affiliation. They not only will not
provide abortion services, they will not provide a whole host of reproductive healthcare. And so there has to be in this country a public
health care system that will ensure that women can get access to the care that they need
regardless of religion. And that is becoming increasingly a problem. And not only, it’s
a problem in Texas, it’s a problem across the country. BILL MOYERS:
Let me ask you this, this Hobby Lobby decision gives the owner of a business on religious
grounds, the power to deny coverage of birth control to– CECILE RICHARDS:
–his employees. Saying in effect, that the religious beliefs of the owner triumph over
the preventive health needs for women workers. Capital has religious rights, labor doesn’t.
Where’s this going to take us? CECILE RICHARDS:
I don’t know. I mean, look, this is, this decision, which I know some people have described
has narrow, is very troublesome. I mean, I think certainly Justice Ginsberg dissent is
correct. This is full of minefields. I was actually there for theHobby Lobby
argument, and it was stunning to see the lack of regard for women. But from that decision, and other decisions
that have, that, you know, certainly had the buffer zone decision, you know, it’s better
to be a corporation today than to be a woman in front of the Supreme Court. And I think
that theHobby Lobby decision is just the beginning of giving corporations
free license to obey those rules and laws that they agree with and not ones that they
don’t agree with. BILL MOYERS:
Giving the owners– CECILE RICHARDS:
Absolutely. BILL MOYERS:
–or the managers and share– CECILE RICHARDS:
The CEOs, that’s right. BILL MOYERS:
That’s correct– BILL MOYERS:
They will be calling the shots more often? CECILE RICHARDS:
That’s exactly right. How could the rights of one CEO, you know, or the beliefs, the
religious beliefs of one CEO and his family trump the right of thousands of women to make
their own decision? Nothing about the Affordable Care Act requires women to use birth control. But as we’re already seeing, millions of women
are already benefiting from being able to make that decision themselves. To make their
own choice about what kind of birth control they’d like to use, if they want to use it,
and to get it paid for and to help plan their families. BILL MOYERS:
Aren’t those owners saying, well, we can’t provide it because of our religious objections.
But they can get it from the government. CECILE RICHARDS:
Well, I mean, you look at this decision as if somehow that we’re going to just throw
everything back to this Congress to fix? I just think it is, I mean, it’s not even laughable
because, of course, the future and the healthcare of millions of women are at stake. But I– that’s where I feel like the Supreme
Court completely overstepped their bounds, which is this is a law. This is a law that
was passed by Congress, that is, that has now been in effect. Millions of women are
accessing birth control. This is really opening the door to saying
to employers, if you, or CEOs, you know, if you have a religious objection to this or
anything else, I mean, with you, it’s a slippery slope here, that you can actually, you know,
we’ll let the government try to figure out what to do about it. BILL MOYERS:
Have we opened another stage in the old debate in this country over religious liberties? CECILE RICHARDS:
I absolutely think so, I mean, we believe in religious liberties, but not the right
of, to use your religion and enforce your religion, your religious beliefs on someone
So why do you thinkHobby Lobbyerupted in the public awareness? What was it about
that decision that caught the public imagination? CECILE RICHARDS:
Some folks aren’t necessarily following the day to day like you and I do perhaps on all
these issues. And when they heard that the Supreme Court had said that there were women
who couldn’t get birth control from their employer, I think people were just in shock.
Really, disbelief, that somehow it’s 2014 and we are still arguing about women being
able to access birth control? It just doesn’t make sense. Again, you have every woman in
the country virtually using it. They don’t see this as a controversial issue. BILL MOYERS:
What do you think will come from the court’s junking of the 35-foot buffer zone? CECILE RICHARDS:
Well, we’re already seeing in Massachusetts that absolutely, immediately after that decision
eliminating the buffer zone we had record numbers of protesters outside of the following
women all the way up to the door of our health center in Massachusetts. These are not all
kindly, elderly ladies simply whispering in the ears. And even if they were, it is the right of
women in this country to be able to access healthcare that they need without harassment
and without the advice of dozens of people outside their health center. I mean, can you
imagine if, you know, if men in this country, before going into their doctor had to walk
through a gauntlet of protesters telling them, you know, whether it’s not to get a colonoscopy
or just go down the list. It’s incredible. I think now we’ll see challenges to buffer
zones across the country. And look, I, it’s hard not to escape the irony of the enormous
buffer zone that the Supreme Court enjoys in front of their court. And why we can’t
afford that same right to women who are simply trying to access healthcare, I just don’t
understand. BILL MOYERS:
Did you ever see that HBO documentary the “Soldiers in the Army of God”? Here’s some
scenes from it. PAUL HILL in Soldiers in the Army of God:
Abortionists are murderers! Murderers should be executed! I definitely felt that the Lord wanted me
to shoot the abortionists. BOB LOKEY in Soldiers in the Army of God:
We need a civil war that will kill a whole lot of people. NEWS REPORTER in Soldiers in the Army of God:
Investigators say evidence places Rudolph at the bombing. They aren’t sure whether others
may be involved. REGINA DINWIDDIE in Soldiers in the Army of
God: I hate to quote Chairman Mao, but he was right:
kill one, scare a thousand. NEWS REPORTER in Soldiers in the Army of God:
Dr. John Britton and clinic volunteer Jim Barrett lay dead. Police arrested Paul Hill
a half block away. BILL MOYERS:
Most people who oppose abortion wouldn’t advocate that kind of violence. But how do you explain
the passion that enters into this debate? CECILE RICHARDS:
Well look, I think this is always going to be a topic where people have strong personal
feelings. But I do believe the rhetoric that is now, that is sort of tolerated, and frankly
that we hear from elected officials oftentimes does encourage people to sort of put women
in a certain place, certainly doctors in a certain place. And, you know, it’s very tough to watch this
footage. But I think it’s important because, of course, this is why the Massachusetts buffer
zone was passed in the first place. This was not simply an intellectual idea, it was because
women and doctors and clinicians were under enormous personal safety risks. And– BILL MOYERS:
The two people were murdered there. CECILE RICHARDS:
That’s correct. And listen, in my eight years at Planned Parenthood, the toughest day was
on a Sunday morning when I got a call that George Tiller in Kansas had been shot in his
church. And amazingly courageous man who had cared for women in a, the most selfless and,
again, always at risk for his own safety. We can’t go back to those days. And that’s
where when you ask me where is this country, that’s not where this country wants to go.
And we’re not going to. BILL MOYERS:
Have you received any death threats? CECILE RICHARDS:
I try not to read everything that comes in over the transom. And the folks I really,
I think when I get up in the morning, I don’t fear for myself. But I take very seriously
the safety of our doctors and our clinicians and our patients. And that’s foremost in my
mind all the time. BILL MOYERS:
Is there a war on women? Or has that become a convenient metaphor? CECILE RICHARDS:
It’s not a term I use. But in some ways, if the shoe fits, you know, I feel like I don’t
like to think there’s a war on women. But the evidence is that there is certainly within
some, certainly some elements of the Republican party, and unfortunately a lot of the leadership,
and a lot of politicians in this country, folks who are uncomfortable, I believe, with
women being equal in America. And, I mean, it’s why we can’t seem to pass,
you know, we can’t pass an equal pay bill, we can’t, we don’t want to have women access
to reproductive healthcare. And I just don’t think young people in this country are going
to let them get away with it. And that’s what, you know, that’s my hope, is that it’s our
kids and their generation that aren’t going to go back to a day when women were second-class
citizens in America. BILL MOYERS:
Cecile Richards, thank you very much for being with me. CECILE RICHARDS:
It’s so good to see you, Bill. Thanks for having me. BILL MOYERS:
At our website, BillMoyers.com, there’s some essential reading on what we’ve just talked
about, and a look at how the states and this year’s candidates are handling the issue of
reproductive freedom. That’s all at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you
there and I’ll see you here, next time.