When Ivanka Trump asked Cecile Richards for a private meeting earlier this year, the Planned Parenthood president held out hope for working together with President Trump’s eldest daughter on women’s health issues.
“She asked to meet, and I said I was happy to meet to talk about what Planned Parenthood does,” Richards tells PEOPLE in an interview for this week’s issue. “I explained to her about all of our services, about the millions of people – one in five women in this country – who’ve been to Planned Parenthood for health care.”
The two women met over coffee early last winter, before Trump’s father was sworn in is as president. “I think like her father, she knew that Planned Parenthood did a lot of good and wanted some more information.”
The Texas native says that, in her discussion with the now First Daughter, she “didn’t get any indication that had any trouble with Planned Parenthood at all.”
“Since then, she’s become one of the highest-ranking people in the White House and probably the highest ranking woman responsible for all women’s issues including women’s healthcare issues,” Richards adds.
Even more crucially, in the time since the two women met, President Trump and his Republican-controlled Congress have moved to cancel $550 million in federal funds that the nonprofit Planned Parenthood—and its 600 health centers nationwide—receive for the non-abortion basic health services (including cancer screenings) they provide to 2.5 million women and men each year.
Trump told Richards that her father is against abortion. “While I respect his personal opinion,” says Richards, “I strongly believe that he shouldn’t be able to take away the constitutional right of every woman in America.”
Richards, who took the helm at Planned Parenthood in 2006, now looks back on her meeting with Trump, 35, and says: “At the time, she sounded like she was sympathetic, but I will tell you this White House has been worse for women than any administration I’ve seen in my lifetime. It’s been very, very disappointing.”
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With the pre-Inauguration conversation long in the rearview mirror, Richards says now she can only hope that it may yet prove to have had an impact.
“I would hope that would use her influence and her role as a federal employee and as one of the leading women in the White House to speak up for women in this country because we desperately need an advocate.”
“But it’s not about talk. It’s about action.”