Could Ex-Planned Parenthood CEO Leana Wen Have ‘Common Ground’ With Pro-Lifers?

Her comments both before and after her ouster in July, for not conforming with Planned Parenthood’s ‘abortion rights advocacy’ model, suggest that she does.

Dr. Leana Wen, former president of Planned Parenthood
Dr. Leana Wen, former president of Planned Parenthood (photo: Wikimedia, CC BY 3.0)

Leana Wen, a physician and former president of Planned Parenthood, wrote about increasing support for the organization by finding “common ground with the large majority of Americans who can unite behind the goal of improving the health and well-being of women and children,” as part of her vision in leading the nation’s largest abortion provider. She also cited this as ultimately the reason for her untimely ouster in July, due to the abortion giant’s exclusive focus on “abortion rights advocacy.”

While Wen has publicly remained a Planned Parenthood and abortion supporter, in the time since her departure, she has also appeared to embrace a few elements of common ground with the pro-life movement. Recently, Wen tweeted an article about a Tennessee pro-life crisis pregnancy ‘Options’ as an example of some of that common ground.

"My heart is with women," Wen began, quoting Wendy Ramsey who runs the pregnancy center. “While I have deep concerns about ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ that deliberately mislead patients,” she added, “this article exemplifies the kind of common ground that all who support women, children, and families should agree on.”

The article looked at Ramsey’s approach in running the center out of the Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church’s basement. “If we want to be pro-life, we have to want more than legislation,” Ramsey told The New York Times.

“I don’t ever look at a baby and think, ‘This is going to make this girl’s life way worse,’” Ramsey told them. “When I see people that are living in poverty, I don’t look at it like, those people shouldn’t have a kid because they aren’t going to take care of it. I look at it as, ‘Those people aren’t in a good situation; how can we help them be in a better situation, with or without a kid?’”

The article noted that Ramsey found “truth in the critique by many who support abortion access that their opponents do not care about life beyond birth. ‘All we want is the baby to be born, and then we are not going to give the parents any kind of tools to take care of it,’ she said of many others in the anti-abortion movement. ‘We are not going to come alongside them; we are just going to feel like we won.’”

Many in the pro-life movement share this concern and ascribe to a two-pronged approach focusing both on legislative change and on assisting women in crisis pregnancies. One way this is done is through crisis pregnancy centers like the one run by Ramsey.

Wen’s concession that an article about a pro-life pregnancy center exemplifies “common ground” with her is a significant one given that abortion advocacy group NARAL, a longtime Planned Parenthood ally, lists ‘Options’ as a “fake clinic” on its site tracking “fake health centers.” 

Wen also appears to be conceding more than she did not even a month prior to her ouster when she tweeted a “powerful” quote from a New York Times op-ed that "whatever the anti-abortion crusaders call themselves, they don’t care what happens to an unwanted child — not after the child is born — and they’ve never cared about the mother."

Another area where Wen found some common ground with one staunch pro-lifer was in support of the View’s Meghan McCain, someone she has publicly disagreed with over abortion in the past, as she wrote on the sensitive topic of miscarriage.

The New York Times reported that one reason for Wen’s ouster was her column for The Washington Post about her own miscarriage and not informing the board in advance of her plan to write it.

“I decided to write about my experience because I want to break the silence and shame that often come with pregnancy loss,” Wen wrote in that column. “I also write because my miscarriage has made my commitment to women’s health even stronger. If we truly care about the health of women, children and families, we must commit to policies that provide pregnant women with the care, humanity and dignity that all people deserve.”

Wen later tweeted support of pro-lifer Meghan McCain’s story, quoting her words that “what we have lost is real” and then emphasized, "your story is my story. It is the story of countless women. Thank you for your courage.”

“Miscarriage is a pain too often unacknowledged,” McCain wrote. “Yet it is real, and what we have lost is real. We feel sorrow and we weep because our babies were real.”

“They were conceived, and they lived, fully human and fully ours — and then they died,” McCain continued. “We deserve the opportunity to speak openly of them, to share what they were and to mourn. More important, they deserve to be spoken of, shared and mourned. These children, shockingly small, shockingly helpless, entirely the work of our love and our humanity, are children.”

It is unclear how many of these statements Wen agrees with, but her willingness to share these stories that buck the narrative of the abortion lobby — a woman mourning the human life lost in a miscarriage and a pro-life pregnancy center providing very real aid — shows a hopeful space: common ground for conversation.

While she was still president of Planned Parenthood, Politico asked if she would be willing to have coffee with those opposed to abortion such as the Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser. “I would be happy to engage anyone who stands with us on the importance of getting care to all people,” she replied at the time. Some pro-lifers, such as former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson, have invited Wen to dialogue about the issue.

In her statement on leaving Planned Parenthood, Wen reflected: “We need to stop treating those whose views differ from our own with scorn and suspicion, and instead work together to safeguard our health, our rights and our future.”

While pro-lifers and Wen disagree on whether or not abortion is healthcare, a willingness to agree on issues like caring for pregnant women in need and an openness to discussing the fundamental issues of when human life begins could be the first steps towards healthier discourse on the issue.