The unexpected termination of Planned Parenthood CEO Dr. Leana Wen after less than a year on the job has laid bare the true mission and priorities of the nation’s largest abortion provider.
Wen’s abrupt departure reinforces the reality that, despite Planned Parenthood’s unfounded claims to be a provider of comprehensive health care for women, the organization remains fixated on its abortion business and views progressive political advocacy as the best way to perpetuate this abortion-centric model (see article).
And Wen’s firing, mere months after she succeeded her far more politicized predecessor, Cecile Richards, is a striking testament to the recent successes of the pro-life movement — particularly at the federal level.
Wen’s post-firing comments comprehensively demolish any doubts about Planned Parenthood’s overtly political mentality. “The new board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion-rights advocacy,” Wen explained in a letter to the organization’s staff.
“I believe abortion is about health care, not politics,” she elaborated in a subsequent New York Times commentary. “Many of my colleagues disagreed,” she continued, adding that her effort to expand Planned Parenthood’s range of medical services was resisted as “mission creep.”
Wen said that her desire, as a medical professional, to “chart this new course” was the specific reason she was chosen last September to succeed Richards, a lifelong political activist. “But in the end, I was asked to leave for the same reason I was hired: I was changing the direction of Planned Parenthood.”
Why, though, had the organization hired Wen in the first place, if it really wanted a hardcore activist at the helm?
It is clear that her removal is, in part, a backhanded compliment to the pro-life movement.
The expansion of abortion rights in states such as New York and Illinois gave pro-life organizations the opportunity to expose the gruesome practice of late-term abortion and set off an array of pro-life legislative initiatives around the country.
“Planned Parenthood was caught off-guard and ill-prepared to deal with the recent attacks,” reported the Times. “Instead of aggressively refuting the claims that Democrats were legalizing ‘infanticide,’ Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups were slow to form a cohesive and effective response.”
And Planned Parenthood may have been even more flustered by the dual punch of the Trump administration’s strongly pro-life policymaking and its ongoing determination to appoint pro-life-oriented federal judges.
Indeed, it’s probable that this combination precipitated Wen’s dismissal: One day before she was fired, the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — previously known as a reliably progressive judicial bastion — ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services can immediately implement its Protect Life Rule mandating that Title X fund recipients can no longer refer women for abortion services and must separate their finances from facilities that provide abortions.
Planned Parenthood described the ruling as “devastating” and “crushing.”
Planned Parenthood’s apparent angst over the deteriorating political and legal landscape is accentuated by the fact that the GOP-controlled White House and Senate might institutionalize a conservative majority on the Ninth Circuit in the near future. And it fears that such an outcome might be a harbinger of a reversal of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationally, by a similarly conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
Wen’s firing can’t be interpreted as evidence that these events will come to pass. But it does demonstrate that Planned Parenthood realizes it faces a period of vulnerability — and has judged the best way forward is to double down on its strident pro-abortion advocacy.
How should Catholics and other pro-life Americans respond to this vulnerability?
At its core, the battle to end abortion in America is a battle to win over minds and hearts — and most especially the minds and hearts of America’s women.
Pro-lifers can deservedly take heart from the fact that they have been successful enough to disconcert Planned Parenthood so profoundly. But the battle to win over enough minds and hearts to put an end to legal abortion remains a long way from being won.