In an exclusive excerpt from her new memoir, Make Trouble, Cecile Richards, the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, recounts the stressful days leading up to her first congressional hearing, which was held after an anti-abortion group released videos allegedly showing the organization's staff selling fetal tissue. One of many things she'll never forget about that day: what she wore—and how that reflected the gender dynamics at play.
Tensions ran high as we got ready for the big day. I drove the team crazy, trying to memorize every relevant piece of paper and every fact. In my spare time I was researching everything from which forms of birth control a patient could get at a clinic in Oregon to how many young people used Planned Parenthood’s text/chat helpline each month. By the time I was finished, I had a gigantic binder of background information, easily six inches thick.
Throughout the preparation process, I asked the team over and over, Where are our patients in this? Where are their stories? I called Dayna Farris-Fisher, a woman from Texas whose experience with Planned Parenthood had stuck in my mind, and asked her, “Is it okay if I talk about you?” She bravely agreed and wished me luck.
A couple of days before the hearing, we did a run-through so our team could explain how the room would be set up and demonstrate how things would work. There was a row of chairs, raised on a platform, like a judge’s bench, and then a place for me in front of the room.
“Who sits with me at the table during the hearing, so I can ask questions or get help?” I asked.
Lee Blalack, one of our lawyers whom I grew to admire greatly, said, “I think it’s better if you are up there by yourself. You don’t need anyone.”
I had a brief moment of panic. “Wait a minute,” I said. “I’ve seen these hearings on TV. Everyone always has a lawyer!” I was madly racking my brain, recalling every TV courtroom drama I’d ever seen, from Perry Mason to Matlock. People on trial were always represented by lawyers sitting at their side.
“You can do it. You’ll be ready,” Lee replied. Though I wanted to strangle him at the time, his confidence in me went a long way.
For our last run-through, the lawyers said I had to come in the clothes I would wear on the day of the hearing. A kind of dress rehearsal, I guess. I picked out a basic blue suit and a pin of my mom’s that had always reminded me of a sheriff’s badge. Whenever I’m up against something really tough, I bring Ann Richards with me.
One of the young women associates looked me up and down. “If that’s what you’re going to wear, you should change your shoes,” she said.
She pointed out that the pair I had chosen had a designed decal on the sole: ammunition for the opposition.
I hadn’t even noticed. I don’t think I actually bought the shoes. I’m pretty sure I got them from Mom, who was much more fashion conscious than I. It was hard to imagine having such a serious conversation with a male witness about what he was wearing.
The mention of my shoes was when I understood that I was going to be scrutinized from head to toe. That realization was later confirmed when the right-wing blogs went into a frenzy over the fact that I had not worn panty hose to the hearing. You have to look pretty close to see a detail like that.
At day’s end there wasn’t much more to do. I’d reread the facts and packed my binder. I’d steamed my suit again and set out a different pair of shoes. [My husband] Kirk [Adams] made us dinner. “Just remember,” he said, “you know more about Planned Parenthood than anyone in that hearing room.” I stopped to consider that but was loath to admit that he just might be right.
I called [my] kids. Lily was in Iowa, where she had moved for the Clinton campaign; Hannah was in Indiana, working on a campaign of her own; and Daniel was in school in Maryland. They each wished me luck, and I went to bed early.
When I woke up the next morning I tried to meditate. It didn’t work. The team packed into a car and we headed to Capitol Hill. There were protesters standing outside the hearing, which was nothing new. It reminded me of a Planned Parenthood luncheon we’d had years earlier on rural Long Island. The place was difficult to find, and at the turnoff we’d had to drive past a group of protesters with ugly signs. Once we made it inside, one of our elderly donors, neatly dressed in her “ladies who lunch” suit and pearls, approached me. “I saw those protesters outside,” she said, and before I could say anything, she went on: “I was so glad they were there—otherwise I never would have known where to turn!” Remembering her made me smile.
Walking into the hearing room, I checked my phone one last time. I had an incoming text from my friend Terry McGovern, who works in global and maternal health. Her message read, “Just remember to carry the rage of women through the centuries with you this morning!”
From Make Trouble by Cecile Richards. Copyright © 2018 by Cecile Richards. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.