Incoming Planned Parenthood chief ready for battle

INDIANAPOLIS – A major player in the fight for Indiana’s women’s health is about to step down, and her successor has no plans of slowing her battle’s down.

After years on the job, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky CEO’s will retire Friday night. “It was my first charitable contribution back when I was 20 years old in Bloomington, and so it was important to me then, 44 years later it’s just as important,” retiring Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky CEO Betty Cockrum said.

The last 15 of those years, she’s served as the agency’s CEO. “The most important thing is that women and men know that we’re there with our doors open,” Cockrum said. “Where we’re located, the services that we offer.”

She’s not afraid of a fight. She’s sued the state five times, including most recently, blocking an Indiana abortion law set to start July first. “It’s gotten a lot whole lot meaner,” Cockrum said.

It hasn’t always been easy. The group faces financial challenges, especially with state lawmakers.

“I don’t think that defunding means that Planned Parenthood goes away,” Cockrum said. In 2011, Indiana was the first state to be defunded, of course we won that, we won that lawsuit as well.”

The agency won’t have to wait long to find out who its new leader is because they’ve already hired someone. She’s never worked with planned parenthood but she’s ready to hit the ground running.

“I have been a supporter of planned parenthood for about 15 years,” new Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky CEO Christie Gillespie said.

Gillespie’s resume includes nearly 30 years with non-profits across Indiana. “I’ve seen, particularly women, but not only women, people making these tough decisions about their reproductive health,” Gillespie said.

She enters Planned Parenthood at a trying time. Federal politicians are threatening to pull funding and over the past five years, its visits have dropped from 200,000 to less than 120,00.

“If you really believe in the mission, and what we’re doing for our patients in Indiana and Kentucky, now is exactly the time to be the leader of the organization,” Gillespie said.

An attitude her predecessor likes to hear. Because she knows how demanding the job can be.

“She needs to make sure that she doesn’t let it take over her life,” Cockrum said. “Because it can.”

Cockrum will officially retire at midnight. Her successor won’t have to wait long to continue the agency’s fights. The group’s most recent victory is only a temporary injunction, and the state can appeal next month.