July 29, 2019 (Crisis) — July was not a good month for the former CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. And I am not taking about Cecile Richards. I am referring to Leana Wen, who, after suffering a miscarriage early in July, also suffered a job loss when on July 16 the Planned Parenthood board of directors showed her the door after only eight months on the job. Wen had replaced Cecile Richards who after 12 years retired as president in April 2018, and whose tenure was marred by scandal that Planned Parenthood abortion centers trafficked in the procurement and sale of aborted baby body parts. This was made known to the public thanks to the 2015 release of Center for Medical Progress undercover videos.
Wen came to Planned Parenthood in September 2018 after distinguishing herself as Baltimore, Maryland's heath commissioner. Many believed that the fact that she was a licensed M.D. was a deliberate signal that Planned Parenthood sought to emphasize its mission as a provider of women's health care. The organization has not had a physician-president in nearly 50 years. Nonetheless, any cursory glance at the numerous media commentary on the Wen ouster immediately reveals that Wen and the board of directors had serious “philosophical differences.”
Indeed, Wen's latest explanation appearing last Friday in The New York Times puts an end to all doubts about it. The op-ed headline reads: “Leana Wen: Why I Left Planned Parenthood — I believe abortion is about health care, not politics. Many of my colleagues disagreed.” She openly discusses the “daily internal opposition” she endured. Wen states: “Indeed, there was immediate criticism that I did not prioritize abortion enough.” She sought “to counter those who associate the organization with only abortion and use this misconception to attack its mission, I wanted to tell the story of all of its services — and in so doing, to normalize abortion care as the health care it is.”
The op-ed headline says Wen “left” Planned Parenthood, but she was indeed fired, and the decision was made during what she characterized as a “secret meeting” of the board which was swift, harsh, and unceremonious.
Upon her dismissal, Wen tweeted a statement that indicated “philosophical differences” existed between her and the board “over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.” Her later more detailed tweet bears serious analysis as to the exact nature of those “philosophical differences”:
As a physician and public health leader, I came to Planned Parenthood to lead a national health care organization that provides essential primary and preventive care to millions of underserved women and families, and to advocate for a broad range of policies that affect our patients' health. I believe the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is.
Wen states that she came to Planned Parenthood to “lead a national health care organization,” and to “advocate for a broad range of policies that affect our patients' health.” Furthermore, she quite clearly indicates that for her abortion “is not a political issue.” She believed that by deemphasizing politics and focusing on abortion as “health care” Planned Parenthood would find “common ground with the large majority of Americans.” If these were her goals and vision, what then constitutes the points of conflict?
Wen saw Planned Parenthood as primarily a “health care organization,” but for board members this “health care” is driven by a political vision; moreover, it is driven by a cultural vision regarding reproductive power and unfettered sexual expression secured by political outcomes. Thus, the political outcomes come first, and that means the delivery of “health care” is a mere expression of Planned Parenthood's political ideology.
This is the central dynamic of Planned Parenthood that must be first recognized if one wants to understand the organization. Health care at Planned Parenthood isn't just health care; it is “health care” as political statement. Since Wen is an M.D., maybe she just didn't get it!
It's clear she didn't because she hoped “to advocate for a broad range of policies that affect patients' health.” This meant that for her it's not just about abortion. Abortion for her is only one type of service offered by Planned Parenthood in a “broad range.” Indeed, during her short time as president she added pages to the website — on mental health and substance abuse — to the chagrin of board members. By emphasizing abortion as “health care” and not politics, she hoped to at last present Planned Parenthood as a mainstream organization that has “common ground” with Americans, rather than a far left organization tied to the political winds of the now very far left Democratic Party.
Adding to all this is the fact that Wen was apparently not completely comfortable with Planned Parenthood's advocacy of “sexual health” transgenderism as is revealed by this commentary in BuzzFeed from an anonymous source inside the organization:
Two sources told BuzzFeed News that Wen also refused to use “trans-inclusive” language, for example saying “people” instead of “women” and telling staff that she believed talking about transgender issues would “isolate people in the Midwest.” For a period of a few months, Wen sometimes went through Planned Parenthood's press releases and documents, deleting the word “sexual” from the phrase “sexual and reproductive health,” the source said. She also resisted using the word “abortion” as a stand-alone term, preferring “abortion care” or other phrases entirely.
What is pathetically sad about Wen's dismissal is that soon after her miscarriage she wrote an op-ed which appeared in the July 6 Washington Post in which she used the loss of her unborn baby to politically advocate against restrictions on abortion. By then she undoubtedly knew that her job at Planned Parenthood was on the line. In the op-ed she mourns the death of the much-wanted baby and admits that she even “felt the guilt” over the miscarriage, saying she “couldn't stop the self-blame: Was it all the travel? Was it the late nights? What if I had less stress?” With this it seems Wen questions whether it was her new job as head of Planned Parenthood that caused the miscarriage.
In the op-ed, Wen lambasts state initiatives that restrict abortion, citing in particular legislation in Alabama, and even declares that laws banning abortion — such as Heartbeat Bills — will “allow the investigation of women who have had miscarriages to determine whether they, in fact, had an abortion.” This allegation is absolutely false as the legislation itself specifically indicates women will not be prosecuted for obtaining abortions.
Wen tries to provide an example of the injustice of laws restricting abortion by pointing to the controversial Marshae Jones case, which involves a woman who faced felony manslaughter charges when she miscarried her baby at 21 weeks. Wen disingenuously makes it sound like this was an innocent woman who suffered a miscarriage like herself! Marshae's baby died because she engaged in a fist fight with another woman, repeatedly striking her opponent who then took a gun and shot her, thereby killing the baby. Based on the fact that she acted in self-defense, the woman who shot Marshae was not charged. Marshae faced charges because according to then-existing Alabama law, Marshae recklessly endangered an unborn child. In keeping with pro-abortion rhetoric, Wen refers to Jones' 21-week-old unborn baby as merely “potential life” and couches her own miscarriage as merely “pregnancy loss” and never the loss of a real human person — i.e., her “unborn baby.” The absence of such a term in an article that is supposed to highlight mourning after a miscarriage is striking.
Wen's op-ed pushed the usual Planned Parenthood buttons. She spoke out against laws restricting abortion, provided misinformation about an abortion-related case, deliberately used language to hide the humanity of the unborn, and shamefully exploited the death of her own unborn baby to advance Planned Parenthood's political agenda, but it was too little, too late. Less than two weeks later she was out of a job. It is even more pathetic when you consider that earlier this year, undoubtedly responding to pressure from board members, Wen tried to show she was getting with it. Due to a January 7 BuzzFeed headline, “Planned Parenthood's New President Wants To Focus On Nonabortion Health Care,” Wen the next day acknowledged in a series of 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.”
According to Planned Parenthood's own 2017–2018 Annual Report, its clinics performed a whopping 332,757 abortions. This means nearly one-third of all abortions in America are coming out of Planned Parenthood clinics. But the organization tries to minimize its dedication to abortion by touting this figure as only 3 percent of its total services. Planned Parenthood's funny math was exposed by even as unlikely a source as the Washington Post. Perhaps Wen believed that such de-emphasis meant that the abortion giant would support her vision that Planned Parenthood is really about health care. However, Wen spoke the truth when forced to do so, saying that indeed abortion is its “first core mission.”
With a pro-life president in office, Title X defunding, the possibility of more anti–Roe v. Wade judges appointed to the Supreme Court, several states passing restrictions on abortion, and laws that directly recognize the unborn as human persons, Planned Parenthood feels its “first core mission” is under threat like never before. The abortion provider's recent judicial defeat against the Center for Medical Progress can only compound their woes.
Since Planned Parenthood is first and foremost an advocacy group that seeks cultural change, and thus needs to achieve its goals politically, Wen certainly had to go. We can pray she will now have that less stressful time in her life, plan another pregnancy, and give birth to a baby who has an inherent right to be loved and welcomed and who will not be subjected to the injustice of Planned Parenthood's “first core mission” Wen naïvely thought she could change.
Published with permission from Crisis Magazine.