A state lawmaker with experience leading a health care nonprofit has been named the next chief executive for the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Minnesota and surrounding states.
Ruth Richardson, 45, succeeds Sarah Stoesz, the longtime chief executive who announced in December plans to step down from the top position at St. Paul-based Planned Parenthood North Central States.
Richardson is a member of the Minnesota House representing Inver Grove Heights, Sunfish Lake as well as portions of Eagan and Mendota Heights. For the past three years, she's served as chief executive at Wayside Recovery Center, a nonprofit based in St. Louis Park that provides mental health and substance abuse support.
Richardson is the first Black woman to become CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, which is Minnesota's largest abortion provider.
"As I embark on this new chapter, health equity is definitely at the core and the focus of what I am excited about," she said of her leadership goals. "But also, just a recognition with the current landscape, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade … I know that we have a lot of work to do."
Recent polling by the Wall Street Journal suggests that support for abortion access has grown since the Supreme Court this summer overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that provided abortion rights nationwide. Since the ruling, several states have banned or restricted access. That means Planned Parenthood North Central States must "be focused on serving patients across our region," the new CEO said in a statement.
Richardson is running for re-election and will not be involved in political work or lobbying while holding her legislative seat, Planned Parenthood officials say.
In Minnesota, legislators work part time and are allowed to have outside jobs. They must disclose conflicts of interest, and Richardson likely would need to recuse herself for votes directly relating to Planned Parenthood.
Stoesz will continue to serve as president of the Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota Action Fund at least through the November elections.
With operations in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, Planned Parenthood North Central States serves more than 100,000 patients per year at 28 health care centers as well as through telehealth. The nonprofit employs about 550 people. With about $65.7 million in revenue during 2019, it ranked No. 64 on the Star Tribune's most recent list of the state's largest nonprofit groups.
In July, Planned Parenthood North Central States workers in Minnesota and Iowa voted to unionize, citing long hours and increased demand for their services.
Richardson is a lawyer who studied at the University of Minnesota before earning her law degree from Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Improving health outcomes for members of racial and ethnic minority groups has been a professional focus that's based in part on family experiences, Richardson said. One way to promote health equity, she said, is providing better access to sexual and reproductive health care, including Planned Parenthood services that range from a variety of diagnostic tests to birth control and emergency contraception.
"What really brought me on this path is that as a young kid, growing up in St. Paul, I heard the stories from my mom and my aunt who all came of age in the segregated South," Richardson said.
"Oftentimes when people are talking about their birth stories, you're hearing these cute and funny stories about birth. What I grew up hearing were really traumatic birth stories — stories of death and stories of loss and stories of mistreatment within the medical care field," she said. "I knew the stories that I was hearing — that they were situations that weren't just and they weren't fair. And I also knew that there was a different way to approach this work."