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In Final Turn With Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards Tells Obstetricians Women's Healthcare "Has a Long Way to Go"

Mary Caffrey
Even though her final stretch at the helm of Planned Parenthood was not easy, Cecile Richards told the nation's obstetricians she is optimistic because of the activism she sees among women and girls at the grassroots level. "Women are on fire," she said.
Clinical trials in Houston, Texas, and in New Jersey could lead to FDA approval of a self-administered form of Depo Provera, which would dramatically increase uptake if women didn’t have to repeatedly go back to a doctor or health clinic.

Richards recalled one of her best days as president of Planned Parenthood, when President Barack Obama called to tell her that all forms of birth control would be available without a copayment, under the ACA’s provision to cover preventive services. This would include long-acting forms of birth control such as implants and intrauterine devices.

Having a variety of birth control options available is essential, Richards said, because each woman is different; 58% of women use birth control for reasons other than contraception, “for everything from acne to endometriosis,” she said.

Funding for birth control for low-income women under Title X, which has been in place since the Nixon Administration, is now under threat, she said. Unfortunately, access to birth control and other health services is highly dependent on where a woman lives, and those in the South have less access and fewer choices. Women of color face huge disparities, she said.

“Women in America have come a long, long way in this past century, but as you know, we have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to public health—to make access to care a reality for everyone.”

Less Access, Poor Outcomes
Richards later told reporters that as states have become battlegrounds, Planned Parenthood has put more resources in these areas. Her home state of Texas is perhaps the nation’s most stunning example of how a rollback in funding for women’s health has affected outcomes. In the years after 2011 cuts aimed at Planned Parenthood shuttered 60 clinics, teen pregnancy and maternal mortality rates soared, and by 2014, there were 35.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, a rate far higher than other developed countries.

“We are living through a maternal mortality crisis in this country that has not gotten nearly enough attention,” Richards said, citing ACOG’s efforts to address rising rates. On Saturday, ACOG’s outgoing and incoming presidents discussed the group’s national initiative, with new ACOG President Lisa Hollier, MD, MPH, pointing out that rates are 2 to 4 times higher among African American women. Outgoing ACOG President Haywood Brown, MD, said the group will fight policies that interfere with the “doctor-patient relationship.”

Combatting Teen Pregnancy
The combination of increased access to birth control under the ACA and a successful teenage pregnancy prevention program drove teen pregnancy rates to 30-year lows. But HHS has tried to end this program, and instead shift funding priority to those that promote abstinence, or “sexual risk avoidance.” The state of Washington sued and obtained a permanent injunction, she said.

Richards said she has seen teenagers advocate for their own healthcare, and the activism of this age group on gun control is inspiring. However, she told the healthcare professionals not to depend on patient activism.

“To build a future that we want to see, and that we believe in, we have to be not only be great providers of healthcare, researchers and public healthcare experts, we have to be advocates for the patients who count on us,” Richards said.


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