By Dr. Peg Sandeen, CEO of Death with Dignity
My mornings start the same way every day. I wake up, walk my dogs, make coffee, and turn my attention to the day’s headlines. The rest of the day quickly unfolds as the sun rises, and I begin working through my to-do list – a typical CEO morning in my estimation.
Today, I’m stuck, my day not progressing as one headline dances in my brain: Cecile Richards is Working Through It: The former Planned Parenthood chief is still fighting for abortion access – even while living with brain cancer.
How could this be? Did I miss a prior story about my favorite shero? Nope, Richards just made the initial public announcement about her illness, six months after the diagnosis and initial rounds of treatment. It’s a gut punch for the champion of choice.
From all accounts, she’s approaching her illness with the same conviction and drive that marked her leadership at Planned Parenthood. She’s strategizing about the war on abortion in a post-Roe world; she is innovating on the topic of abortion access by creating and designing a bot which will support pregnant people who are struggling to access abortion services. Her tireless advocacy for bodily autonomy continues to be her lifelong theme, even during the course of a devastating diagnosis.
Like many social justice advocates, I learned to appreciate the Richards legacy by watching her mother’s career first. Ann Richards was a political force in Texas – a no-nonsense, straight-talking governor as conversant in women’s issues and education policy as she was in foreign relations and economic development within Texas.
Cecile Richards’ career is marked with parallel accomplishments to her mother’s, serving her community through social justice work that dips deeply into U.S. politics.
The Death with Dignity movement has benefited tremendously from Richards’ leadership. Her methods for dismantling opponent arguments are textbook examples in messaging, and she implements crisis communication tactics with ease. Birth and death bookend the fight for bodily autonomy rights in the U.S., and the abortion rights movement and the right-to-die movement are the vanguards of this fight.
I reached out to an advocacy colleague after I heard the news, and she immediately shared a story about resisting the urge to fangirl over Richards when they were both in attendance at an informal social gathering. So many of us have been in that space – awed at her tireless efforts and the way she fends off countless attacks with ease. Collectively, we all wish Richards the very best in her journey with brain cancer.