Cecile Richards to step down as head of Planned Parenthood

Image: Cecile Richards  participates in a panel discussion during the annua
President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Cecile Richards participates in a panel discussion during the annual Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 20, 2016 in New York. Copyright Stephanie Keith Getty Images file
Copyright Stephanie Keith Getty Images file
By Dartunorro Clark and Andrea Mitchell with NBC News
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Richards, who has steered Planned Parenthood for more than a decade, is stepping down, two sources close to Richards confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday.

Cecile Richards is stepping down as president of Planned Parenthood after steering the health care organization for more than a decade, two sources close to Richards confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday.

It is not immediately clear when Richards, who joined the organization as president in 2006, plans to leave, but she has conveyed her plans to several of Planned Parenthood's board members, the sources said.

The news was first reported by Buzzfeed.

Richards later confirmedthe news in a statement Friday, saying that she will continue to advocate for women's rights — though she did not offer a hint as to her next steps.

"I'm deeply proud of the progress we've made for the millions of people Planned Parenthood health centers serve across the country each year ... and I will be leaving the organization well-positioned to serve and fight for our patients for a century more," she said.

"Every day we see the incredible power that grassroots voices can have — there has never been a better moment to be an activist. You can bet I'll be marching right alongside them, continuing to travel around the country advocating for the basic rights and health care that all people deserve. I've been an activist my entire life — and that won't stop anytime soon," she added.

Richards has been a significant figure in congressional fights over federal funding for Planned Parenthood's clinics, which provide nonabortion-related health services to women, particularly in rural communities not otherwise served.

Her departure comes at an important turning point for the abortion rights movement.

President Donald Trump's administration has moved to curtail contraception access while tightening abortion restrictions and has also cut back protections for Planned Parenthood services in a number of states, thanks to a tie-breaking vote last March in the Senate by Vice President Mike Pence.

Richards, 60, has aggressively championed abortion rights in the face of fierce attacks from conservative lawmakers while advocating for Planned Parenthood's health care services. She oversees the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its more than 600 affiliate health centers around the country while helming its advocacy arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

In 2015, Richards defended the organization after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, secretly recorded videos of employees discussing its fetal tissue research. The videos were deceptively edited, which she said created a "sensationalistic atmosphere."

Later that year, Richards faced off against Republican lawmakers in a contentious House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing held to scrutinize its federal funding.

Planned Parenthood receives roughly $450 million in government funds, which cannot be used for abortions in the vast majority of cases.

Before joining Planned Parenthood, Richards served as deputy chief of staff for Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrat in the House. She is the daughter of Ann Richards, the former Texas governor.

Her book, "Make Trouble," is expected to be released in April by publisher Simon & Schuster.

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