The rumor of Richards's retirement, which had been circulating in the liberal political world for months, was first reported Wednesday by BuzzFeed News. According to people with knowledge of the decision, there was talk before the 2016 election that if Hillary Clinton won the presidency, Richards was ready to move on.
Planned Parenthood had been one of the conservative movement's major targets even before Republicans took back the White House. For much of Richards's tenure, Planned Parenthood was engaged in battles to protect its taxpayer funding, both federally and in states. In 2011, she led a high-profile campaign to block funding cuts, pointing out that Planned Parenthood enjoyed far more public support than Congress.
"They named us by name, and women really identified with this," Richards told The Washington Post in 2012. "It wasn't just, 'Well, times are tough, we're going to cut family planning services.' It was literally, 'We're going to tell women they can't go to the major family-planning provider in this country.'"
While Barack Obama was in the White House, Richards scored win after win: Last year, Planned Parenthood received $390 million from Medicaid and around $60 million from Title X, earmarked for birth-control services.
In 2016, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group's political arm, spent $38 million to support Clinton and other Democrats. After Clinton's defeat, Richards helped position the group at the front of the Democratic "resistance," growing from 9.5 million to 11 million members, according to the group. Richards, with more than a decade of experience at the top of a much-attacked organization, formed alliances with the activists who rushed into the fray after Trump's win.
"She has always answered my calls and has never said 'no,' " said Linda Sarsour, a co-founder of the Women's March. "An ally in every sense of the word."
In 2017, House Republicans passed legislation cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood as part of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act; the legislation died in the Senate, with Planned Parenthood activists in Alaska and Maine working to win over the states' pro-abortion rights Republican senators.
Last weekend, Richards spoke at both the Women's March in New York and its "Power to the Polls" political rally in Las Vegas.
"For 12 months and counting, the one thing standing between this administration and their goal of ending access to health care and reproductive rights and safe and legal abortion has been millions of determined women," Richards said at the rally.
While rumored since last year, the possibility of Richards leaving Planned Parenthood took some allies by surprise.
"She's someone we have partnered with very happily," said billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer in a telephone interview. "If she stops, I hope it's because she's doing something new and important. If she ran for any office, I'd support her."