How often have we been told that Planned Parenthood isn’t a political organization or that it isn’t all about abortions?
Remember how abortions were only “3 percent” of the work the organization did?
The New York Times is a pretty good barometer of liberal thought, so I’ll give you its nutshell description of the group: “Planned Parenthood, a more than 100-year-old organization with 600 affiliated health centers nationwide, has simultaneously served as both a health care provider for millions — it provides cancer screenings, contraception, disease testing and abortion services — as well as one of the leading advocacy organizations for women’s reproductive rights.”
That’s both obfuscating and telling all in one.
It obfuscates by giving us the official line on what Planned Parenthood claims it does, which is health care; that it’s only incidentally a political actor for abortion rights as part of its wider health care mission.
It’s telling because, well, it’s in an article about how the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Leana Wen, has been ousted for not engaging in enough political activism in support of abortion.
A source familiar with Wen’s departure told @NBCNews that her removal was due to management and leadership challenges, including mistrust between the existing staff and the new hires she had brought in. https://t.co/UID4thdUMt
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 16, 2019
“Planned Parenthood on Tuesday removed its president after less than a year in the job, seeking new leadership at a time when abortion rights have come under increasing attack from statehouses and Republicans in Washington,” The Times reported.
“The sudden ouster reflected a widening disagreement between the president, Leana Wen, and the board of directors over her management style and which direction to steer one of the nation’s leading women’s reproductive rights groups.”
And what did that “widening disagreement” consist of?
A BuzzFeed News article about her firing described Wen’s approach like this:
“She was first and foremost a doctor and her team put an emphasis on her medical credentials, kicking off her presidency with a campaign called ‘This Is Healthcare,’ emphasizing Planned Parenthood’s role outside of politics, drawing a contrast with her predecessor, former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, who had turned the organization into a political powerhouse during her tenure.”
In a statement, Wen said she believed “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.”
“I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood,” she said.
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) July 16, 2019
BuzzFeed News reported that a “source familiar with the board’s thinking said her removal was accelerated by the intensifying battle over abortion rights, saying that she was not the right leader in this climate.”
The Times, meanwhile, reported “four people familiar with the matter said the group’s board of directors felt it needed a more aggressive political leader to combat the current efforts to roll back access to abortions.”
One gets the feeling that Wen might have taken Planned Parenthood seriously when it said it was a health care organization and learned what a mistake that was.
Wen ended up serving only about eight months, having been appointed to the post in September with an effective date of Nov. 12, 2018. She was removed on July 16, 2019.
Since then, a number of states have enacted legislation that curtails abortion with varying levels of success in the courts. The consensus in Planned Parenthood seemed to be that Wen — who, at 36, was already a former health commissioner in Baltimore — wasn’t the right leader for the moment. There was also an exodus of top talent, including the loss of another vice president this week.
“This is a crisis time in terms of the impact on the patients we serve and the communities we serve,” Amanda Skinner, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Southern New England, told The Times.
“I think that Dr. Wen is obviously a very thoughtful leader in health care. I think what is critical for Planned Parenthood is how much we all have to really lean hard on all of the elements of our mission.”
That’s interesting, inasmuch as the only element of Planned Parenthood’s mission that Wen didn’t seem to lean hard on, at least to this outside observer, was the idea that abortion on demand with almost no restrictions needs to be protected through vigorous political activism. It’s almost as if Amanda Skinner is admitting something here.
To be fair, there were also other issues in terms of management styles, some of which were hilariously bad.
“During the beginning of Wen’s tenure at Planned Parenthood, the staff she brought with her distributed a 182-page handbook on rules and tips for staffing Wen,” BuzzFeed News reported. “The ‘Special Assistant Guide’ from the Baltimore City Health Department, according to a copy obtained by BuzzFeed News, details guidelines on timeliness (‘Nothing can fall through the cracks’), office demeanor (‘Make sure to frequently look up [from Twitter] and make eye contact with Dr. Wen to see if she is trying to communicate urgent information’), language use (‘Dr. Wen ‘learns’ not ‘hears’’). and correspondence (‘Try not to look at emails more than once. Take care of it then’).”
“The handbook was honestly just the beginning of her management issues,” one source told BuzzFeed. “S— has been crazy, there was a whole system of insanity: A deep mistrust of staff, giving directives that made no sense, saying things that were factually inaccurate, saying one thing then saying something else completely, micromanaging control over what people were allowed to say and not say.”
Then again, people tend to tolerate crazy if it gets things done. (See: Jobs, Steve.)
The overwhelming impression one gets is that this was about the “direction” of the organization, which brings us back to the fact this is a tacit admission Planned Parenthood’s core competencies have little to do with women’s health care.
Unless, of course, you’re dealing with that whole “3 percent” of its activities which have to do with abortion.
This isn’t a defense of Wen, who tried to normalize the death of the unborn as “health care” and did her best to ensure Planned Parenthood advocated for unfettered access to abortion at any point during pregnancy.
When that isn’t enough, however, it tells you a lot about where Planned Parenthood is. It’s not a good look.
In the interim, the Planned Parenthood board appointed Alexis McGill Johnson to replace Wen.
She comes from the Perception Institute, an anti-bias group. I’m not quite sure what anti-bias activism has to do with women’s health care. Then again, I’m also not quite sure it matters.
CORRECTION, July 18, 2019: This commentary originally stated that Dr. Wen had served as president of Planned Parenthood for “about ten months.” Although she was appointed on Sept. 12, 2018, that appointment was not effective until two months later. We have corrected our article to read “about eight months” and to explain the timing.
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