Regardless of threats to federal funding or laws passed by legislators, Christie Gillespie said she has a clear message for clients of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky.
"These doors will stay open," Gillespie said.
Gillespie was named as the new president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, also known as PPINK, on Tuesday. She takes the helm July 1. Gillespie replaces Betty Cockrum, who is retiring after 15 years in the role.
"I am thrilled to leave the organization in such capable hands," Cockrum said. "Christie brings unparalleled leadership experience in public policy, strategic planning, fundraising and community engagement at a time when these issues have never been more critical."
Gillespie said that she plans to draw on her experiences from previous positions as she starts her new role. Most recently, Gillespie was the vice president for community impact with the United Way of Central Indiana. Before that, she worked with the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development and Community Alliance of the Far Eastside.
"All of my positions have been somehow based in community and human services and so I think one of the things I bring to this role is I think I have a good, complete picture of what many of our clients at Planned Parenthood are facing, holistically, in their lives," she said.
Gillespie, 51, has lived in the Indianapolis area for 25 years, she said, but she grew up east of there on a family farm. Gillespie is a graduate of Purdue University, followed earning her masters degree in Public Administration at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. She has a partner and two step-children, she said.
Gillespie has volunteered with Planned Parenthood for 15 years as a funder, donor and advocate, supporting their benefits, and attending rallies and encouraging legislators to support the organization, she said.
Becoming the CEO of the organization wasn't just a job title, but a position she felt passionate about, she said.
"The mission of Planned Parenthood is something that I believe in to my core," she said.
Gillespie feels that "the No. 1 job of a CEO" is "to make sure we're financially stable because if we're not financially stable, we can't provide the services to our patients."
There's been a lot of debate at the state and federal level about "whether Planned Parenthood should be considered a health care provider for Medicaid" href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/health/healthcare/medicaid-HEPRG00001-topic.html">Medicaid patients," Gillespie said. While potential cuts hurt the organization's bottom line, "more importantly ... it hurts our patients because it removes a choice for patients to be able to access us as their primary health care provider," she said.
One way to work to ensure funding for the organization is to go out and talk with legislators and other influential leaders who participate in policy discussions to emphasize why the organization should be supported, which Gillespie said she plans to do.
Part of that includes making sure they understand what PPINK does to help "patients who often have no other provider, no other choice in terms of access," she said.
"I will definitely want to continue a lot of what Betty has done in her leadership to make sure that we stay ... a visible source of accurate information when it comes to reproductive health," Gillespie said.
Even with the threat of funding cuts, Planned Parenthood has seen its highest peak of donations and fundraising since the 2011 efforts to cut funding, she said. It's this "incredible activism" of people from "all walks of life" in the past six to eight months, including with the Women's March and other rallies, who "have never been involved in a civic way before" that Gillespie said she finds inspiring as she takes on her new job.
"We thought all of these things with reproductive rights have been debated and solved," she said. "And a lot of us, including me, took that for granted that we would never have to discuss these things again. And I think a lot of us have really realized that we've become a little complacent. And we're all waking up that these are things that we all need to be more active."
Gillespie will also be taking over as PPINK, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, has an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a law signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in April, which allows a judge to alert the guardians of a teenager seeking an abortion, among other guidelines.
"Despite how it might be described, it is not about protecting teenagers or families but is really about restricting the access to abortions. Laws like this have been opposed by state and national medical experts, and honestly could jeopardize a young person's access to health care," Gillespie said.
Gillespie said she and PPINK hope that "politicians will just be reminded that they are not physicians, and it's best for them to stay out of the doctor's offices and let the physicians do their work." Until that happens, Gillespie said she will fight to make sure people "receive high quality healthcare."
Like her predecessor, Gillespie said she believes that PPINK's mission is "more important than ever" to make sure that "regardless of income, people can have control of their lives and plan when is the best time to have their family when they're emotionally, financially and otherwise ready for that."
"At the end of the day, through lawsuits, fundraising, all of that stuff, it really comes down to delivering high quality reproductive care to the patients," Gillespie said.