Loretta Ross was a co-founder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and a national advocate for reproductive rights.
As the first president hired from outside the ranks of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Richards has helped the organization meet the challenges of the 21st century. Her resignation comes at a moment in which reproductive freedom is threatened in ways both old and new, and her replacement must be prepared to stare down gathering white supremacist and anti-choice forces with clear eyes.
For that reason, PPFA’s next president should be a woman of color.
Perhaps none of the challenges facing Planned Parenthood is as urgent as the racial and class divisions that shape how American women seek reproductive health care. Race and class are inextricable in America, and both interfere with access to and use of reproductive health services. Middle-class and wealthy women of all races use private doctors, not public clinics ― except under special circumstances, such as when they’re young or temporarily poor. Planned Parenthood’s financial structure depends on the low-income black and brown women who rely on its services in communities with the greatest needs ― places like Texas, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.
Under a white president, Planned Parenthood could still focus on the needs of low-income women. But to put a woman of color in the top job ― one with a fundamental understanding of how class works in a racialized health care system ― would send a strong signal to current and potential clients of color that the organization can be trusted and that it believes in empowering women who share their experiences.
PPFA has a long history of hiring women of color. Outside of hospitals, it is perhaps the country’s largest employer of women of color in the reproductive health field. Yet, for most of its history, women of color have struggled to be heard within the organization and to be given power and responsibilities commensurate with their expertise. Too many of these talented women leave in frustration. Many become cynical about whether the organization will change enough to welcome the diverse leadership it needs and deserves.
In this dangerous political moment, Planned Parenthood also requires an expert on white supremacy, someone who can use an intersectional analysis to respond to this neo-fascist, anti-democratic movement. In a few decades, white people will no longer be the ethnic majority in the U.S., and a “one-man, one-vote” democratic system will not reliably protect white privilege when the majority of voters are not white. Alarmed and angry white men already use the culture wars ― such as attacks on immigrants and LGBTQ people and misogynistic policies against abortion ― to mask their fears. They actively deconstruct the institutions that make democracy function, like voting rights, the judiciary and the media.