“Anything Less Than Full Enthusiasm for and Celebration of Abortion is Unacceptable”
After only eight months on the job, Planned Parenthood’s short-lived president, Dr. Leana Wen, has been ousted. Immediately after her firing, Dr. Wen herself took to Twitter to criticize the organization, pointing out that they abruptly terminated her after a “secret meeting,” even though she was already engaged in “good faith” negotiations with them about her departure.
It is, perhaps, unsurprising (and certainly telling) that Planned Parenthood – which claims to be the country’s #1 “pro-woman” non-profit – terminated Dr. Wen only days after she suffered a miscarriage. Because nothing telegraphs concern for women more than turning a woman’s life upside down while she is in the midst of healing from a highly traumatic event. Of course, one could argue that Planned Parenthood was merely being consistent: if what Dr. Wen was carrying was merely a “potential life” (sadly, Dr. Wen used this phrase herself in describing her miscarriage), then there is no compelling reason to respectfully grant her a period to grieve (grieve what, after all?).
However, equally telling were the apparent reasons for Dr. Wen’s firing. Wen herself stated that the parting was over “philosophical differences.” Surprisingly, both sides seem to agree what those philosophical differences were: i.e. that Wen was insufficiently militant in her support for abortion. As Wen herself wrote, contrary to her vision, the Planned Parenthood board wanted “to double down on abortion rights advocacy.” And as the New York Times reported, “Current and former Planned Parenthood officials describe Dr. Wen as a smart but alienating manager who wanted to significantly reorient the group’s focus away from the abortion wars and more toward its role as a women’s health provider.”
This is a staggering admission, coming from representatives of an organization that has worked strenuously for years now to create the impression that it is, fundamentally, a comprehensive “women’s health provider,” and that abortion only constitutes a tiny minority of its services…even if they have had to blatantly lie to do so. Indeed, Planned Parenthood’s mantra that abortion only constitutes “3%” of their services is so laughable that even the fact-checkers at the Washington Post – one of the most liberal papers in the country – gave the organization “three Pinocchio’s” for making the claim. As the Post rightly pointed out, the only way Planned Parenthood can make the claim is by cooking their data in such a tortuously creative fashion that the numbers are rendered meaningless.
On the other hand, when Planned Parenthood first hired Wen – a medical doctor who everybody agrees had proved her medical bona fides – many people thought that perhaps Planned Parenthood was actually going to make an effort to make the reality match the rhetoric. That is to say, maybe Planned Parenthood really was interested making a course change, perhaps putting more resources into its rapidly dwindling non-abortion services, and neutrally offering abortion as but one among many possible prenatal “health” services.
Make No Mistake, It’s About Abortion
Certainly, a course correction was desperately needed. Planned Parenthood’s previous president – Cecile Richards – was above all a hard-boiled, savvy, and ideologically extreme political operative. Under her leadership the organization’s political lobbying overshadowed its purported health services; meanwhile, abortions performed by the organization hit record levels, while other legitimate health services dwindled year after year. As The Radiance Foundation reports, over the space of a ten year period, breast cancer screenings fell by 65%, “PAP tests…down 72%. Prenatal care (which looks to be facing an eventual phase out)…down 78% since 2009. Colposcopy procedure…down 64%.” In 2017-18, the organization performed over 330,000 abortions (more than one-third of all abortions in the U.S.), but provided a measly 2831 adoption referrals.
Richard’s hard-edged personality could also come across as unsympathetic – an impression that was not aided by the “baby body parts” scandal that hit Planned Parenthood during her tenure. Undercover pro-life journalists recorded multiple Planned Parenthood doctors engaged in macabre financial negotiations over the bodies of the babies the organization had aborted. Meanwhile, other pro-life investigators revealed that, contrary to its claims, the organization in fact does not offer mammograms at all – demolishing one of the commonest and most useful (but, alas, utterly false) claims made by Planned Parenthood’s political allies.
Wen, to her credit, took Planned Parenthood at their word. If Planned Parenthood claimed to be an organization committed to women’s health care, she would make them one. As the New York Times reports, soon after taking the helm Dr. Wen instructed Planned Parenthood to add pages to their website about things like asthma, the common cold, and mental health. As Wen herself explains in an op-ed, her approach was to treat abortion as just one element of women’s health care. “As one of the few national health care organizations with a presence in all 50 states,” she wrote, “Planned Parenthood’s mandate should be to promote reproductive health care as part of a wide range of policies that affect women’s health and public health.” As such, she says, she “began efforts to increase care for women before, during and after pregnancies, and to enhance critically needed services like mental health and addiction treatment.”
All perfectly reasonable things to do…if Planned Parenthood really were interested in being a comprehensive health care organization.
However, Wen quickly discovered what pro-life activists have long known. Planned Parenthood is about abortion, period. As Wen writes, her original plan was, “To counter those who associate the organization with only abortion and use this misconception to attack its mission” by telling “the story of all of its services — and in so doing, to normalize abortion care as the health care it is.” However, after she took over from Richards, “there was immediate criticism that I did not prioritize abortion enough.”
Now, here’s something extraordinary. For, whatever can be said about Wen, it cannot be said that she isn’t fully on board with legal abortion. Indeed, Wen had no problem even using the death of her own child in a miscarriage to attack pro-life laws and promote abortion. In a statement in January of this year, Wen also affirmed about Planned Parenthood that, “Our core mission is providing, protecting and expanding access to abortion and reproductive health care.” That hardly sounds like she’s some stealth pro-life softie.
On the other hand, she also admits that she made a deliberate effort to reach out to people who have “nuanced” views about abortion, including those who “wrestle with abortion’s moral complexities,” but who still support its being legal. But as she learned, in the world of Planned Parenthood, anything less than full enthusiasm for and celebration of abortion is unacceptable.
Wen’s firing also exposes the other dirty secret about Planned Parenthood. The first dirty secret is that Planned Parenthood is primarily about abortion. Planned Parenthood wants to keep this a secret, because a huge number of Americans don’t support abortion, or, at least, Planned Parenthood’s extreme views on abortion; and if many of them thought of Planned Parenthood as primarily an abortion-provider, they might get antsy about billions of their taxpayer dollars going to the organization. As it is, Planned Parenthood currently makes the implausible claim that tax dollars only get used for non-abortion services – as if an accounting gimmick somehow changes the fact that our tax dollars are keeping the lights on and paying the staff at the same clinics that are aborting babies.
The second dirty secret is that Planned Parenthood is also one of the most effective political lobbying organizations in the U.S. Again, Planned Parenthood can claim (using those old accounting gimmicks) that they don’t use taxpayer dollars for their political lobbying efforts. They even have a “separate” political organization, called the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. However, the two organizations have a close relationship, and it would be very naïve to think that the political lobbying arm doesn’t benefit from the huge cash handouts that the healthcare “non-profit” receives from the government.
Lila Rose and Live Action refer to the whole operation as a “political money laundering scheme.” As one article explains: “Under this ‘corrupt funding cycle,’ … pro-abortion politicians funnel tax dollars to Planned Parenthood for ‘health’ operations, leading pro-abortion donors to conclude its ‘health’ needs are covered, so they can direct their contributions to the abortion giant’s political arms. This, in turn, helps Planned Parenthood Votes, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Planned Parenthood Federal PAC elect politicians who will protect their federal subsidies.” And by “politicians,” we mean, of course, Democrat politicians.
The result is that Planned Parenthood spends hundreds of millions of dollars in explicitly influencing the political process in favor of one party, and its desired aims – mainly, more abortion. Wen, for her part, says she wanted “to depoliticize Planned Parenthood.” Unfortunately for her, this attempt came at a time when pro-life sentiment in the U.S. is swelling, and when pro-life activists are landing victory after victory. Of course, this isn’t Wen’s fault. Mostly, it’s the fault of scientific progress – i.e. the fact that most people can no longer reasonably ignore the fact that abortion clearly ends the life of a living human being. But at a time when pro-life laws are sweeping the country, Wen’s softer, health-focused approach clearly made Planned Parenthood’s board and supporters nervous.
Even if Wen had succeeded in her reforms of Planned Parenthood, the organization would have remained irredeemably tainted by its murderous activities. However, there was a chance that the organization might also have mitigated that evil by, at the very least, providing some legitimately medically useful services. Wen strikes me as a far more complex figure than her predecessor. My hope for her is that her experience at Planned Parenthood has opened her eyes to the extremism of her present ideological bedfellows. I am grateful to Abby Johnson for setting the right tone on social media after Wen’s firing, when she wrote: “Prolifers, our job is to reach out to Dr. Leana Wen in love. Snarky memes & words will not bring about conversion. Let us also remember that she is a woman grieving the loss of a miscarried child. Let us treat her with care, not callousness. Let’s be the people we say we are.”
That strikes me as just right. Not only must we pray for Wen’s conversion, but we can also be grateful that she has served as the canary in the coal mine. Her modicum of nuance (and only the barest modicum at that) on the issue of abortion, and the chilly reception she got from Planned Parenthood as a result, has unmasked Planned Parenthood for the extremist anti-life organization it is. Please God this truth will help us finally defund Planned Parenthood, or at least warn some vulnerable women against seeking actual health care within Planned Parenthood’s walls.