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Ex-Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards to speak at FFRF’s convention

Cecile Richards
Ensaf Haider

Cecile Richards, the longtime president of Planned Parenthood who recently stepped down, has agreed to speak at FFRF’s 41st annual convention in San Francisco, which runs Nov. 2-4.

Richards will receive FFRF’s “Forward” award, recognizing work to move society forward.

She is a national leader for women’s rights and social and economic justice, and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Make Trouble. As president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund for more than a decade, Richards has worked to increase affordable access to reproductive health care and to build a healthier and safer world for women and young people.

After starting her career as a labor organizer, working with women earning the minimum wage, she went on to start her own grassroots organizations, and later served as deputy chief of staff to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In 2011 and 2012, Richards was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Other featured honorees and speakers at FFRF’s annual gathering include eminent writer Salman Rushdie, television host Adam Savage, actor John de Lancie (of “Star Trek” fame), ex-Muslims of North America co-founder Sarah Haider, irreverent actress Julia Sweeney and stand-up comedian Leihann Lord.

Also appearing at the convention will be Ensaf Haidar, the activist wife of a Saudi freethinker whose persecution has caused global outrage.

For the supposed crime of “apostasy,” Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was shockingly sentenced in 2013 to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, which was unbelievably increased to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison the following year (along with a hefty accompanying fine). Haidar, his wife, will receive the third annual Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award of $10,000.

Shortly before Badawi was jailed, Haidar fled with their children to Quebec, where she was granted political asylum. Haidar has become a secular activist in her own right, establishing the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom to spread progressive values in the Middle East and working tirelessly for Badawi’s release.

Badawi’s real “crime” seems to have been his attempt to engender social discussion on the intrusive role of religion, the clerical establishment and the moral police in Saudi society. “Raif Badawi’s trial for ‘apostasy’ is a clear case of intimidation against him and others who seek to engage in open debates about the issues that Saudi Arabians face in their daily lives,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Badawi was subjected to 50 lashes in 2015. A global movement sprang up in his defense, which, thankfully, made the Saudi government pause. But Badawi is still in prison — and reportedly in deteriorating health.

Badawi (often along with Haidar) has been given several international honors, including the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded by the European Union. Badawi’s writings have been collected in a book that serves to inspire all of us. The work is evocatively titled, 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think.

“Freedom of speech is the air that any thinker breathes; it’s the fuel that ignites the fire of an intellectual’s thoughts,” Badawi has said.

Raif Badawi is a secular icon, and Ensaf Haidar is an international freedom fighter. FFRF is pleased to be honoring them at its get-together in San Francisco.

Convention registration is only $60 per member, $65 per companion, $110 non-member, and free for students and children. Sign up for the discounted package that includes the two group meals on Saturday and save $20.

The convention is being held at the downtown Hyatt Regency, 5 Embarcadero Center, which has the world’s biggest hotel lobby and rooms featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. Rooms can be reserved for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at $235 plus tax. Phone directly to make your reservations: 1-888-421-1442 and use the code “Freedom From Religion Foundation.” Or go online at for full convention information or reserve hotel rooms directly at Don’t delay, as rooms are going fast!