By Dave Andrusko
Leana Wen is Planned Parenthood’s new president so we shouldn’t be (and aren’t) surprised that Dr. Wen is the recipient of an endless stream of flattering profiles. The latest came this week and appeared in Buzzfeed.
But Wen was not happy with the story’s headline. In a tweet she complained
I am always happy to do interviews, but these headlines completely misconstrue my vision for Planned Parenthood.
How did the headline read? “Planned Parenthood’s New President Wants To Focus On Nonabortion Health Care.”
I read both the story itself and Wen’s lament carefully. PPFA’s whole intent in choosing a physician to replace political operative Cecile Richards, it would seem obvious, was to reinforce its imaginary stance as a “non-partisan” political player and reinforce the meme that abortion is a drop in the bucket ( a mere “3%” of its services).
So you might think Wen would thank reporter Ema O’Connor and whomever wrote the headline—and even more so the subhead:
The organization is still committed to providing abortions and reproductive care but Wen, the first female physician to run Planned Parenthood, is embarking on a cross-country listening tour to learn how best add or expand nonabortion services.
Wen tweets, “First, our core mission is providing, protecting and expanding access to abortion and reproductive health care. We will never back down from that fight – it’s a fundamental human right and women’s lives are at stake.”
Message received: Abortion is Job 1. Period.
But if you read the story, especially towards the end, you understand that Wen is trying to thread the needle. There are a couple of “Democratic strategists” who suggest her appointment was a sign of organizational “fatigue,” that its political arms may not be as political as aggressive as they have been.
Wen is assuring them they will go after Republicans in general, President Trump in particular, with all guns blazing. Wen insisted
that the organization isn’t backing away from politics. In fact, she said she plans to expand Planned Parenthood’s political work to collaborate with the Democratic, pro–abortion rights candidates who won 2018 midterm elections on the state legislature and gubernatorial levels around the country. The organization will be heavily involved in the 2020 presidential elections, she said, and will continue to challenge the Trump administration’s abortion and reproductive health care policies.
But she also wants to foster and reinforce PPFA’s current slogan: “This Is Health Care” which is far less confrontational than Richards’ sloganeering.
Wen is trying to have it both ways: in theory, turn more Planned Parenthood affiliates into “one-stop shops,” although “There are no concrete plans for this expansion just yet,” Connor tells us; but never back down from the crazy notion that killing unborn babies is “health care.”
Wouldn’t you love to known Richards’ response when she read this statement at the end of the Buzzfeed story. Referring to her “listening tour” (or “pilgrimage,” in O’Connor’s words, to the affiliates)
“Clinic visits through my eyes are different than the visits through her eyes,” Wen told BuzzFeed News, getting up to leave her new office. While Richards visited clinic workers as a political organizer and abortion rights champion, Wen said she’ll be talking to them medical worker to medical worker. “For me, I’m a frontlines health care fighter, I’m going back to my people. For her, she’s a frontlines organizer, going back to her people, but in a different way.”
Message received. Wen can do electoral politics just fine at the same time she repositions Planned Parenthood in the public’s mind as seemingly less overtly political and more of a full-service health resource.
This is not the least bit true, but with a bevy of sympathetic reporters, Wen can float this false narrative indefinitely.