Last week, Time magazine announced its person of the year: Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. It's been 29 years since a woman has made the cut for this distinction. If we here at Lenny were to do the honors, the person of the year would always be a dame of one kind or another. And this year, we were particularly amazed by Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, who stood strong in the face of unprecedented attacks on reproductive freedom, including the unspeakable shooting in Colorado Springs in November. Just a few months prior, Cecile's epic testimony before a Congress intent on defunding Planned Parenthood was a study in intelligence and calm — I know I would have either fallen asleep or punched someone if I had come face to face with that much ignorance. I Skyped with Cecile last week to discuss Planned Parenthood's tumultuous year, the influence of her mother, former Texas governor Ann Richards, and why 2016 is going to be a banner year for women's health in America.
Lena Dunham: Hi! You look so glamorous and you're in front of a blackboard. This is my dream situation in which I would find Cecile Richards. You're exactly where I would have dreamed you would be [in front of a blackboard that appears to be covered in strategic brainstorming and diagrams].
CR: We're here in the nerve center of Washington, D.C.
LD: Reader demand for this interview since the first day we launched has been so massive. So this is very exciting. I wanted to start out by saying how sorry we are about what happened in Colorado, and how painful that must be for Planned Parenthood.
CR: Thanks. I appreciate it.
LD: Planned Parenthood is always under some measure of scrutiny and attack in this country, but how is the Planned Parenthood family recovering from this latest attack in Colorado Springs? Have you had to take new measures to ensure your safety and your employees' safety?
CR: Thanks for your expression of sympathy. Of course, the most important thing to us is the safety of our patients and our employees. We actually reopened at our health centers all across the country on Saturday morning. And women were waiting for us — outside the health centers, as they always are. And so I actually feel like … we just carry on. Our motto is "Our doors stay open." And they do.
We'll move on from this. It's obviously really disturbing how much hateful rhetoric there is about women. About women who seek abortions, doctors who provide abortions, organizations that provide abortions. I hope people will take stock of what can happen sometimes when the rhetoric just gets so intense and really ugly.
LD: As a leader, how do you deal with these challenging and even tragic moments? So many of us have trouble just making a lunch order. What is it like for you to have had to lead Planned Parenthood through these historically challenging moments this year? Do you have any sort of tips or tricks that you use to galvanize your team and maintain the kind of workplace that you want to be in, even under that kind of pressure?
CR: Well, I guess I'd say, first, we've always been under pressure. The two things that keep it going are one, the unbelievable team here at Planned Parenthood. Nobody just happened to come here to work. Everyone's here because they care about what we do, and so that helps people go through tough times. And then the other thing is just the overwhelming need and support of our patients who, like I said, Saturday morning, they were there at our clinics, and they were just saying, "Thank you so much for reopening this morning, because I really needed to come here." That's what keeps people going.