Cecile Richards

On this date in 1957, abortion rights advocate Cecile Richards was born in Waco, Texas, one of four children born to Ann (née Willis) and David Richards. Her mother was a junior high social studies teacher and her father was a prominent civil-rights attorney. Both were politically active progressives.

Richards grew up in Dallas and attended a public school where her sixth-grade teacher decided to start class each day with the Lord’s Prayer, “which I neither knew the words to or wanted to recite, and I told her that. I said, ‘I actually don’t, that’s not what we do in my family.’ And she replied, ‘Are you just trying to make trouble?’ I realized I really wasn’t trying to make trouble, but if she thought I was, then I guess I was and that was OK.” She added, “We went to the Unitarian church, not because we were religious, but because that was where all the social movements in town were organizing.” (Interview with Annie Laurie Gaylor, Nov. 3, 2018)

After being disciplined by her public school in the ninth grade for wearing a black armband to protest the Vietnam War, Richards transferred to the progressive St. Stephen’s Episcopal School for the rest of high school. At age 16, she helped her mother campaign for Sarah Weddington, the attorney who won Roe v. Wade, in her state legislative race.

Richards graduated in 1980 with a B.A. in history from Brown University in Providence, R.I., then worked as a labor organizer. When she was 30, she moved from Los Angeles back to Texas to help her mother run successfully for governor. When her mother was sworn into office in 1991, Richards’ daughter Lily was 4 and she was pregnant with twins Daniel and Hannah. In 1982 she had met Kirk Adams while they were organizing New Orleans hotel workers and they would later marry.

Richards was the founder in 1996 of the Texas Freedom Network to counter the Religious Right and the founding president in 2004 of America Votes, a progressive lobbying group. The family moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Ted Turner Foundation and was deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

She served as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund from 2006 to 2018. She was criticized by some supporters for not revealing her abortion until she had run Planned Parenthood for eight years. “[Having an abortion] was the right decision for me, and it wasn’t a hard one. My husband and I were working more than full time and had three kids already. I was fortunate that, at the time, accessing abortion in TX was not the nightmare it is now.” (Richards on X, formerly Twitter, May 16, 2019)

In her book “Make Trouble” (2018), she wrote: “Parenting isn’t for everyone, and I will fight to my last breath to protect every person’s right to decide whether to have children. But raising our three kids … is, bar none, the absolute best thing I’ve ever done.”

Richards was the recipient in 2018 at FFRF’s national convention in San Francisco of the Forward Award in recognition of her efforts. She was also a guest on FFRF’s TV talk show “Freethought Matters” in January 2019, the year she co-founded Supermajority to educate women and their allies on how to further their political agenda for the 2020 elections.

She was diagnosed in 2023 with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer for which the median survival rate is 15 months. During treatment she worked on Charley, a bot she co-created to help women get good information on how to safely end their pregnancies.

Freedom From Religion Foundation