Not Progressive Enough for Planned Parenthood
Resigned to Abortion
Leana Wen, Planned Parenthood’s president and CEO was forced to resign this week and she wrote an op-ed in The New York Times to explain why. The crux of Wen’s resignation is politics. She writes; “I have long believed that the most effective way to advance reproductive health is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one.” The irony is almost unbearable, here, as Planned Parenthood receives almost half a billion dollars from the government each year - one of the most contentious political issues in America today - and has become the leading political shibboleth between the two parties. But she’s not referring to that kind of politics, in part because no one at PP is divided over that issue.
Wen is up front that she wanted to expand PP’s influence beyond just the realm of abortion. This has been one of the most popular rationales for ongoing support PP. Even some Christians have argued that PP’s existence is a social good because of the support they provide in women’s reproductive care. As she worked to expand the vision of PP, she writes, “There was even more criticism as we worked to change the perception that Planned Parenthood was just a progressive political entity and show that it was first and foremost a mainstream health care organization.”
In an open letter to PP employees posted on Medium, Wen added that when she came before the search committee last year, she made it clear that the best way to protect abortion is to “contextualize it — to treat reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is.” That’s been her narrative, and one that’s gained significant traction in the abortion debate in America.
But the board of Planned Parenthood has other aspirations. They decided to move on from Dr. Wen to a leader with more aggressive political ambitions. Abortion is a lightning rod right now. As several states have recently passed legislation restricting abortion availability, PP wants a leader who will go on the offensive. They named long-time board member Alexis McGill Johnson as the interim president and CEO both of the Planned Parenthood Federation of American, which contains 600 clinics nationwide, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the company.
New Abortion Legislation
Early in his presidency, Trump gave abortion clinics the choice to receive federal funds for reproductive health or continue performing abortions. Now they’re being forced to make their choice, and they’re choosing abortions.
This week the Trump administration reinforced legislation that prohibits Title X funded organizations from recommending or referring to abortion clinics. Title X allocated money for family planning, funding reproductive healthcare for over 4 million women per year. These laws have previously been in place, and have faced a series of legal battles, but will now be enforced. They specifically redistribute government money to clinics who do not refer for abortions, of which the number has grown significantly in the last 20 years. Abortion advocates have called this measure a “gag order.”
This legislation has brought some interesting factors to the surface. The funds can be used for women’s reproductive health, as long as the healthcare providers do not refer women to abortion clinics. Medical groups like Maine Family Planning, an ally of Planned Parenthood, which operates 50 clinics in Maine, have refused to take any more funding - even though they are not legally able to take it because they refuse to stop providing abortions. But here’s another interesting fact about these companies; they have always used private donations to provide abortions, and now they will have to dip into reserves for the reproductive care side of their business. For these clinics refusing government money means the non-abortion reproductive care will suffer, which is exactly what they claim to be fighting for. Clinics who do not provide abortions will receive funding and will be enabled to continue offering their services through government aid.
Christians and Abortion
This sequence of events, and the backstory of Wen’s departure, is illuminating. At Politico, Rich Lowry commented, Wen “took Planned Parenthood’s propaganda a little too seriously. And now she’s out of a job.” It’s foolish to believe that PP is about anything other than abortion - and now they’ve made that crystal clear. This is not to say that they do not do anything other than provide abortions, but that their mission is in clear focus.
638,169 abortions were performed in the United States in 2015 (the latest year the CDC has recorded). That’s equivalent to every single person in Nashville, Oklahoma City, Portland, or Las Vegas being aborted in the course of a single year.
For a while, it was popular to hear PP and their advocates argue that abortion only made up 3-4% of the services they provided. However those numbers were construed, it’s clear that was a political ploy to rope in a larger sector of the American public. Those statistics have been removed from their website, and the woman who championed that line of argument has been removed from their organization.
We should consider two implications from this story. First, the solution to abortion in American isn’t just to shut down abortion clinics, remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood, and advocate that health care providers abide by standard medical guidelines - although all of those things are important - but the essential thing is to provide excellent women’s healthcare without giving ground to abortion. One of the strongest arguments we can provide is that healthcare for women is so ubiquitous that Planned Parenthood is obsolete and unnecessary as a healthcare provider.
Second, we have to remember that this is an intensely personal issue, far more than it is political. Cases of rape, health crises, and incest account for a tiny fraction of abortions, somewhere around 1.5%, but issues like poverty, single parenthood, repeat abortions, and the declining dignity of motherhood and the family provide compelling reasons for women to continue to seek abortions. Christians must continue to strengthen foster care and adoption agencies, provide truthful education, and set an example for God’s good design for the family, even as - and especially as - we continue to speak against the horrors of abortion.
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.