Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood, comes from a family of troublemakers. And she’s proud to admit it.

On Sunday evening Ms. Richards addressed a sold-out crowd at the Chilmark Community Center as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Author Series. Moderated by fellow author Alexandra Styron, Ms. Richards discussed her new memoir, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.

The book, published in April of this year, details her activist work, which began as early as sixth grade in her hometown of Waco, Tex. Ms. Richards credited the spitfire energy of her father, civil rights lawyer David Richards, and her mother Ann Richards, who went from homemaker to governor of Texas, as continual inspiration.

“She wasn’t patient,” Ms. Richards said of her late mother, who died in 2006, the same year she accepted her position as president of Planned Parenthood. “I think she felt like she spent a lot of her life doing what was expected of her and was absolutely determined to make sure no other woman did that if they didn’t want to.”

Ms. Richards said it was with the encouragement of her mother that she interviewed for the position at Planned Parenthood, a job that she described as “the best job in the world.” The organization was founded in 1916 and operates more than 600 health centers across the United States. Each of those centers offers a number of services to women and men including cancer screenings, access to contraceptives, and sexual education programs.

“This is an organization that one in five women in this country have been to for health care, including me,” Ms. Richards said.

Sold out crowd listened to conversation at Chilmark Community Center. — Jeanna Shepard

One of the most highly contested services offered by Planned Parenthood is abortion. Ms. Styron grappled with the subject, thinking aloud about those who distinguish themselves as pro-choice versus pro-life advocates.

“I’m so puzzled by it often,” Ms. Styron said, as Ms. Richards nodded attentively. “I want to get a bit inside the mind of people who are so avidly anti-choice. It can’t be all about faith, so I wonder what is the driving force? Control? Fear?”

Having lead the organization for over a decade, Ms. Richards said she has had this conversation with many people on both sides of the aisle. She also emphasized that neither she, nor Planned Parenthood as an organization, like to pigeonhole people into the binary of “pro-choice” or “pro-life,” as the complexities of the issue vary for everyone.

“I have respect for people who for their own, personal reasons say abortion is something that they would never choose,” Ms. Richards said. “But the vast majority of people in this country can separate their own feelings from what they want the government to tell everyone else to do with their lives. Roe [v. Wade] is at the strongest level of support it has ever been at in this country.”

While positive about the surge of support for women’s reproductive rights, Ms. Richards said she did not want to minimize the danger that clinicians and doctors face every day. She cited the November 2015 shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs which killed three people as an example.

“I’ve lived through what it means to have politicians use that kind of hateful rhetoric demonizing women, demonizing doctors,” Ms. Richards said. “It is real. It has real life consequences and we can’t just dismiss this.”

She emphasized the importance of women stepping up and running for office in order to break down societal stigmas and galvanize true political change.

“Women are one of the most powerful political forces in the country,” Ms. Richards said. “And if you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably not doing enough.”

A number of people had questions following the discussion. One voiced concern about what the country would look like if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Another asked how Ms. Richards manages her place of privilege as a white woman when participating in her own activism.

“You have to use your privilege to make room for other folks,” Ms. Richards said. “We’re investing in a whole new generation of leaders at Planned Parenthood. It’s important to be very conscious of your own privilege and to be open to that conversation.”

As the question and answer session concluded, Ms. Richards left the crowd with a final sentiment.

“I hope you make trouble,” she said to applause.

Next up for the author series is Nell Scovell on August 9 and Tayari Jones on August 16. All events begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center. Visit mvbookfestival.com.