By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. NRL Director of Education & Research
Editor’s note. As we’ve discussed over the last two weeks, Planned Parenthood is in a heap of trouble. Firing Dr. Wen was not the first sign of internal turmoil but it was, and remains, the most public. As it turned out, canning Dr. Wen prefigured a slew of negative news about the largest “abortion provider” in the United States.
Yesterday I re-posted my remarks about the backstabbing and infighting from a year ago. Today, Dr. O’Bannon weighs in, based on his deep knowledge of Planned Parenthood from one year ago.
Planned Parenthood has long sought to pretend that abortion is just another form of reproductive “health care,” one of many such services that the $1.6 billion non-profit offers. Why, they tell the public, PPFA offers contraceptives, “cancer screenings,” treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Abortion is just one of the health “services” they offer, and a relatively small one at that, accounting for “only about 3%” of the organization’s services.
But when Leana Wen, an actual medical doctor with a record in public health, came along and sought to take the group in the direction to which it professed to be committed – to make it into a broader health care delivery organization but without retreating a step on abortion– Planned Parenthood balked. So, on Tuesday, July 16, Dr. Wen was fired from the Planned Parenthood presidency after only eight months on the job.
To any who have followed Wen first few months on the job, the idea that she was insufficiently committed to abortion—the “not for attribution” explanation given to sympathetic media outlets for her abrupt ouster– seems preposterous.
In April of 2019, Wen went on a “listening tour,” visiting Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country. While she made it a point to highlight the variety of new services that various Planned Parenthood facilities were adding or offering, such as primary care or mental health, news accounts noted that Wen “emphasizes abortion services at each stop, trying to weave the message into the public health narrative” (Kaiser, 4/17/19).
Wen told audiences, “Abortion is part of the spectrum of full reproductive care, and we know reproductive care is health care … And health care is a human right.”
You would think driving home the (spurious) linkage between killing unborn babies and genuine health services would win her plaudits from her board. But you would be wrong.
News reports now tell us that internal rumblings began just months into her term, with complaints over her “management style,” (Washington Post), “leadership issues” (TIME), and ominous “disagreements over the group’s direction” (New York Times), all on July 16.
That criticism notwithstanding, Wen dutifully carried the “abortion is healthcare” banner. This past May, seeing that six states were down to one “abortion care provider,” and one state (Missouri) in danger of “losing” its only one, Wen identified what she called a “State of Emergency for Women’s Health,” launching a hashtag, #StopTheBans.
She sounded the alarm when courts first allowed the Trump-Pence administration’s Title X regulations to go into place, making sure recipients of federal family planning funds do not use any of that money to perform or promote abortions.
Over and over again Wen followed the company line but evidently was insufficiently tunnel-visioned.
The organization did not give a public reason for her firing. But in a letter released on Twitter (@DrLeanaWen, 7/16/19), Wen explained, “I am leaving the organization sooner than I’d hoped because of philosophical differences about the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”
Wen said that she believed that “the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a healthcare one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights”
Clearly, Planned Parenthood’s board of directors did not agree.
Elaborating further in her statement on what she called these “philosophical differences,” Wen wrote “[T]he new board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy.”
Wen defended her record, arguing in her 7/16/19 departure letter that “As a result of our efforts, the ‘abortion care is health care’ message has caught on, and public opinion has shifted.” She claimed that she was able to mobilize over 100 medical and public health groups to the cause and with partners at NARAL, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the ACLU, “brought together nearly 200 executives in a New York Times ad to speak out against the bans.”
As recently as June, Wen, also the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (the political arm), hosted twenty of the top Democrat presidential candidates to a forum in Columbia, South Carolina. She elicited pledges to “codify Roe” and get rid of the Hyde Amendment so that the federal government could broadly fund abortion (and thus Planned Parenthood).
But this was not enough for her bosses. They were not happy that abortion was not identified as the pre-eminent issue, day in and day out. The PPFA board and its political operatives wanted someone who treated abortion as the paramount issue, the central concern of Planned Parenthood’s never-ending social and political campaign.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who helped recruit Wen for her prior position of Baltimore’s Health Commissioner, made a very cogent observation.
Sharfstein said that Wen “was very driven to see Planned Parenthood become more of a health care organization at this moment in time when the organization is very much focused on the battle over abortion rights….Obviously it wasn’t possible for those things to coexist at this moment” (Baltimore Sun, 7/16/19).
Some other unidentified PPFA sources tried to insist it was not either/or but both/and: the organization could promote abortion and be a health provider. They preferred to attribute Wen’s departure to her “management style.”
But study the past several years of service data from Planned Parenthood. They completely undermine the claim that they were invested in “health care” that went beyond abortion.
Critics such as National Right to Life have documented how Planned Parenthood’s professed commitment to health care is inconsistent with the stark decline in non-abortion services at Planned Parenthood, which has seen cancer screening services at the group’s clinics drop by nearly 70%, from 2,011,637 in 2005 to just 614,361 in 2017 (the last year for which PPFA has published statistics).
Even contraception, Planned Parenthood’s signature product, is down more than a third (34.3%) since 2006. The number of abortions, by contrast, is up by 25.4%, from 264,943 abortions performed in 2005 to 332,757 in 2017. This, even while the overall number of abortions performed by non-PPFA “providers” in the U.S. have been dramatically falling.
These figures made a conclusion inescapable: Planned Parenthood’s commitment to “health care” was merely lip service, a ploy to lend medical credibility to their organization while still pursuing their more deadly, diabolical agenda of expanding their abortion empire. Abortion is the engine that drives the nation’s “largest abortion provider.”
In firing Wen, Planned Parenthood affirmed what critics have said for years.
If the leadership at Planned Parenthood truly believe, not only in abortion but also in “health care,” why fire Wen, who sought to expand their offerings?
Why has Planned Parenthood allowed the provision of cancer screenings and contraceptive services slip so badly if women’s health is their primary commitment? And why have abortions at PPFA held steady or increased during the same time?
It was tough making the case that Planned Parenthood was just another humanitarian health care provider when they had a political firebrand like Cecile Richards at the helm. Clearly, they hoped that having a doctor at the top (for only the second time in its history!) would serve the function of giving them cover.
Few remember it now, but this has happened before. In 1993 Planned Parenthood tried turning to nurse Pamela Maraldo after fourteen years under political and public relations powerhouse Faye Wattleton.
Despite a full throated defense of abortion and higher numbers of abortions than the group had previously seen, Maraldo was given the boot in just two years. She was ousted by a coalition of larger, more powerful PPFA affiliates who felt that Maraldo did not sufficiently emphasize the role of abortion in the group’s future plans.
Planned Parenthood didn’t see abortion as just another health care service then, and today–millions of abortions later–obviously doesn’t see it as one now.
Maybe Dr. Wen really thought abortion was healthcare, but clearly, Planned Parenthood knew better. The abortions Planned Parenthood performs aren’t health care. They never were.
Abortion isn’t healthcare.
It doesn’t cure any disease. It doesn’t improve any medical condition. Abortion simply takes the life of an unborn baby, leaves a woman empty, and fills Planned Parenthood’s pockets.