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May 27, 2018







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 What are you really interested in right now?

Yoga. … I attribute yoga to helping me achieve balance in many aspects of life, both my parenting and family life and to … help me stay composed when involved in political matters that have often, in this career of mine, been heated.




Leaving time
Longtime Planned Parenthood advocate steps down

02/01/18



 Can you tell us about your background?

I’m originally from Bedford, New Hampshire, and I went to the University of New Hampshire. I worked in Washington, D.C., on the Hill a little bit between college and law school. I returned to the state to go to what was then Franklin Pierce Law Center and is now UNH School of Law. While in law school, and maybe even in undergrad, I had an interest in political science but also in a variety of social policy issues that were connected to political science. My first job out of law school, I was a lawyer with New Hampshire Legal Assistance as a legal aid attorney. Most of my clients were women and children. I did a lot of work on domestic violence, Medicaid. I rose within the organization to do policy work rather than individual casework. I think something that always stuck with me was the role that unintended pregnancy and mistimed pregnancy played in the lives of women in short-changing opportunities and preventing them from fulfilling their educational opportunities. So when I saw an opportunity to take my legal aid and policy advocacy world and migrate to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England … in 1999, it felt like a great step upstream in the world of policy and legislative advocacy to help secure the right and access to health and contraception for the kinds of women I got to know on my case load when I was a legal aid attorney. 
 
What did you do for Planned Parenthood?
I tried to keep the doors open so that as many patients who were in need of services could come in for affordable and high-quality access. At the time, Planned Parenthood had six — now it has five — health centers in different parts of the state. Its largest flagship health center is … in the city of Manchester. So that day-to-day workload may entail working on regulatory matters, making sure our professionals are licensed, or working with different state agencies to compete for different kinds of public funding and grants that were available to support the core work of Planned Parenthood. … The family planning, the well women visits, the STI testing and cancer screenings. And an important but nonetheless small part of Planned Parenthood is ensuring that women have access to safe and legal abortion. I think that while it may be less than 10 percent of what we do, it’s the source of more than 50 percent of the controversy and the political energy that someone in my role is required to navigate.
 
What are some of the biggest myths you encountered about abortion?
[Myths can include] that we’re an organization that predominantly exists to provide abortion, that we somehow aren’t fully respectful of women’s autonomy, whatever choice they want to make about their pregnancy. 
 
What have you seen change in the issue of women’s health over the past 15 years?
I think most fundamentally the growth in the innovative methods and expanded methods of birth control, and the policy victories that we’ve had in removing barriers and obstacles like the no cost sharing that now applies to women [and] removes the barrier for them to get the most effective methods. … We’ve seen tremendous decrease in the teen pregnancy rate, unintended pregnancy rate and the abortion rate because of those more modern methods and because of improved access. I’m particularly proud that all the years I was in New Hampshire, we had the lowest rate of unintended and teen pregnancy in the nation, and that means we’re doing something right. 
 
What’s next for you?
I have made this change largely motivated out of the personal need to step back from a job that’s demanding and 24/7 and focus on my teenagers who, I increasingly recognize, are only in my nest for a little bit longer. … I think that I will be recharging my batteries both physically and professionally and taking a look at what kind of new challenges might await me in 2019, but I have called this a sabbatical year …  because I want to be really thoughtful and take some time, and perhaps volunteer in my community, serve on a board, do other things that would keep me connected to the issues that I care about. 
 
— Ryan Lessard 





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