State Rep. Ruth Richardson to lead Planned Parenthood

Ruth Richardson, District 52B state representative
Ruth Richardson campaigning in 2018.
Richard Marshall for MPR News

Planned Parenthood has named a DFL state representative from Mendota Heights to be its new CEO.

Planned Parenthood North Central States has announced Ruth Richardson will be its new CEO, effective this fall. She succeeds Sarah Stoesz, who announced last year that she would be stepping down after serving for 21 years as the head of the health care and abortion services provider.

The organization now includes 30 clinics in Minnesota, as well as Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Richardson is a two-term state representative of District 52B and is on the ballot for re-election in November. Richardson told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer she intends to seek re-election.

“By design, Minnesota has a citizen’s legislature,” Richardson said. “There are many folks that are within the legislature who have other jobs. We have business owners, we have educators, we have farmers, you know, insurance professionals, real estate professionals.”

If she wins, Richardson would not oversee what Planned Parenthood called “political work” or “lobbying” as long she was in the Legislature. She said she would respect rules in the legislature to recuse herself from votes where there are conflicts of interest.

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“There is already a firewall between the nonprofit healthcare side and the political side” of Planned Parenthood, Richardson said. “And that will continue.”

Richardson is an attorney from Mendota Heights and will be the first Black woman to lead Planned Parenthood in the region.

“Reproductive justice and just the human right to health care is something that was really instilled in me as as a child, hearing the birthing stories of my mom and her sisters growing up in segregated Mississippi,” she said.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Well there's more news today related to abortion access. Yesterday, DFL House member Ruth Richardson made news in becoming the new CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States. The organization operates 28 health centers in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. Richardson takes the helm at a tumultuous time for the organization, with abortion rights rolled back in North and South Dakota, and at risk in other states following the fall of Roe v. Wade in June.

Richardson, who's been in the state house since 2018, remains on the ballot for re-election in November. Which raises some interesting questions. She's on the line right now. Welcome to the program, Representative.

RUTH RICHARDSON: Hi. Thanks for having me.

CATHY WURZER: You are the first Black CEO to lead Planned Parenthood in the region. We were just talking about a new article from the U of M calling abortion access a racial justice issue. Do you view your work in that way?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Definitely. Reproductive justice and just the human right to healthcare is something that was really instilled in me as a child. Hearing the birthing stories of my mom and her sisters growing up in segregated Mississippi and hearing the stories of my grandmother and others, it really sparked in me the reality that there's been a lot of historical mistreatment. And healthcare truly is a human right, and everyone should have an equal opportunity to achieve their optimal health and access healthcare.

CATHY WURZER: I mentioned in the intro that it is a tumultuous time for abortion rights. What's the top item in your priority list for this new role?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Well with this new role, I'm planning to start with listening. There's a lot going on with overturning of Roe v. Wade. We know that in [AUDIO OUT], abortion has been banned in 15 states. And there's concerns that that could be as high as 26 states. And so really, to get started within this role, I'm going to be focusing on talking with patients, talking [AUDIO OUT], and talking with stakeholders.

But the most important thing is recognizing that the work that Planned Parenthood does through its health centers is vital. It's critical. They're a leader in reproductive healthcare, and their work changes lives. And it's really about ensuring that everyone has the ability to control their bodies and their future.

CATHY WURZER: This is a high profile job. Do you plan to resign your house seat or abandon your re-election campaign?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Well, I'm on the ballot, and I expect to serve. Clearly there's an election that needs to happen within November that everyone is going to be watching very closely. And me being a CEO of a nonprofit healthcare center is something that I'm doing right now. Right now, I am CEO of a multi-site nonprofit healthcare center that's open 24/7. And with the high acuity of substance use disorders and mental health, I've been doing that role while serving within the legislature as well.

CATHY WURZER: Yes, that's true. And you are CEO of a much smaller organization. Planned Parenthood is much larger, and of course, they are politically powerful. I'm wondering, I can't think of a lawmaker who has stayed in the house or senate and runs such a powerful organization. How is that not a conflict of interest for you?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Well, I think it's important to remember that by design, Minnesota has a citizen's legislature. It's not an accident. It's the way that the system was designed. And there's this ongoing debate about whether we need to build a new system that isn't a citizen's legislature, that would be a full-time legislature. But for the current moment we have and for what we are faced with right now, there are many folks that are within the legislature who have other jobs.

We have business owners, we have educators, we have farmers. Insurance professionals, real estate professionals. I know there are bills that were introduced last session about changing the current system that we have. But with the current system that we have, we anticipate and expect that people will have jobs while serving within the legislature.

CATHY WURZER: That is true. And lawmakers do have outside jobs, but your Republican colleagues are already saying this is an egregious conflict of interest. What do you say to them?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Well, I think the most important thing is that there is a standard that is set up in the House around conflicts of interest. And also around recusal from votes. And for those who have been paying attention with my current role within the healthcare realm, there has been an instant where I had to recuse myself from a vote. I followed the procedure of the House. I informed the speaker. And my recusal is on record.

And so I think the important piece to remember is that within the citizen legislature, people are going to have employment. And if there is a will to move our legislature in a different way with a new system design, then that will be the future. But for now, we have the citizen's legislature.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, and because there are strict rules prohibiting lawmakers from being paid lobbyists, I'm wondering, will there be some kind of firewall between you and Planned Parenthood's lobbying?

RUTH RICHARDSON: So I'm going to be overtaking the CEO role of the nonprofit healthcare center, the 501(c)(3). The political arm of the organization is a completely separate entity. It's a separate legal entity. And Sarah Stoesz will remain the president and CEO of the political arm overseeing that entity. So there is a firewall already between the nonprofit healthcare side and the political side. And that will continue.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Ruth Richardson, thank you so much.

RUTH RICHARDSON: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Ruth Richardson is the new CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States. She's also a state lawmaker.

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