Poor Leana Wen. She took Planned Parenthood’s propaganda a little too seriously. And now she’s out of a job.
For the longest time, Planned Parenthood has insisted that it’s a health care organization and it only cares about abortion — supposedly a tiny share of its business — insofar as it’s a function of health care.
Whenever Republicans have threatened Planned Parenthood’s funding over abortion, the response was, Abortion? Don’t be silly. We are all about Pap tests and breast exams.
The hiring of Wen as president seemed the natural extension of this line of argument. How serious is Planned Parenthood about health care? For the first time in a half a century it had a physician, with “Dr.” in front of her name, one who was once the health commissioner of Baltimore, leading the organization.
BuzzFeed wrote a mostly favorable piece on Wen’s ascension eight months ago headlined, awkwardly in order to honor the trope that abortion is health care, “Planned Parenthood’s New President Wants to Focus on Nonabortion Health Care.”
The first sign of trouble should have been that Wen felt compelled to immediately tweet that the headline misconstrued her vision. “Our core mission,” she wrote, presumably under internal pressure, “is providing, protecting and expanding access to abortion and reproductive health care.”
But Wen, it turns out, wasn’t single-mindedly devoted to abortion enough. With her ouster, Planned Parenthood’s mask, never very firmly in place to begin with, has slipped. No matter its political spin during fights over its funding, no matter what its glossy printed materials say, no matter how dishonestly it presents the statistics related to its services, the organization is about abortion first and last, now and forever.
In a letter tweeted after her firing, Wen cited “philosophical differences” with the leadership of the board. Namely, she had come to Planned Parenthood “to run a national health care organization.” The board wanted “to double down on abortion rights advocacy.”
It’s truly extraordinary to have this breach out in the open, given how vested Planned Parenthood has been in its image as a mere health care provider. When Barack Obama became the first — and one hopes, the last — president to address a Planned Parenthood conference in 2013, he talked almost entirely about health care. In fact, he didn’t mention the word “abortion” once.
Planned Parenthood always says abortion is only 3% of its services, an absurd factoid designed to mislead. Providing pregnancy tests and performing abortions are both Planned Parenthood services, although one is obviously much more consequential and central to its mission than the other.
The more telling way to look at it is that Planned Parenthood performs roughly a third of all abortions in the country, about 330,000 a year, according to its annual report.
If performing a significant share of the country’s abortions were merely incidental to its mission, it would gladly give it up. If you told any other federally funded group that it might have to forswear a small sliver of its business to continue to get public dollars, it wouldn’t be a difficult choice. Or, if Walmart had to decide between, say, selling Bounty paper towels and everything else on its shelves, it wouldn’t be a close call.
The internal complaint about Wen was that she was too concerned with what is, if we take Planned Parenthood’s spurious accounting seriously, 97% of its business. So what’s wrong with that?
The context of her ouster is the continued pressure on Planned Parenthood from the Trump administration and in Republican states, which, if nothing else, is smoking Planned Parenthood out. The firing of Wen, coupled with the decision to forgo Title X funding rather than stop providing abortion referrals in keeping with a new Trump administration rule, makes the group’s true priority obvious, if there were any doubt.
An interim president has been named and the implicit guideline for filing the permanent role will surely be: No doctors need apply.