Dr. Leana Wen, who was fired this week from her post as Planned Parenthood’s president, has published an op-ed for the New York Times about why she “left” the organization, stating she has “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.”
Wen was ousted after a troubled eight months, which sources told the New York Times was characterized by an “ongoing misalignment of the mission.” Buzzfeed News also reported that, per sources, “Wen also refused to use ‘trans-inclusive’ language, for example saying ‘people’ instead of ‘women’ and telling staff that she believed talking about transgender issues would ‘isolate people in the Midwest.’” In Wen’s op-ed, she doubles down on her belief that “depoliticizing” Planned Parenthood was the path to “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.”
Wen explains her across-the-aisle stance during her tenure, which involved including “people who wrestle with abortion’s moral complexities, but who will speak out against government interference in personal medical decisions,” as well as those who oppose abortion but support abortion access and/or Planned Parenthood itself, in her words. She writes:
Ultimately, my departure is not about me or the organization I continue to care deeply about. It goes beyond the movement for reproductive rights to the very ethos of our country. Can we put aside partisan differences to do what is best for the people we serve? Will the conversation continue to be dominated by a vocal minority from both ends of the spectrum, or can there be space for those of us in the middle to come together around shared values?
Wen’s op-ed attempts to show the way she was defining and enacting her version of inclusion, but is ultimately frustrating and misses the point she tries to make: It is impossible to depoliticize a right, abortion, as well as an organization, Planned Parenthood, that has been forcibly politicized for its entire 103-year existence by those who want the right to be abolished and the organization to cease existing. The fact that her tactics seemed to include centrist (if I’m being charitable) coalition-building, at a time when abortion access is under more aggressive government attack than it has been in 46 years, is naive at best. And that she points out that “support for Roe v. Wade was at the highest point in four decades” is astonishingly myopic. It’s not about public support; it’s about a powerful minority of politicians and anti-abortion extremists, largely comprised of right-wing men and religious groups, who want to legislate away bodily autonomy despite the wishes of the American majority, and who are hopeful that a Supreme Court stacked with conservatives will provide a path to restrict reproductive rights and eliminate legal abortion. Further: What isn’t political about anti-abortion extremists targeting Planned Parenthood, including doctors and patients, with violence and murder?
The mind boggles. The op-ed is here.