A Shrewd and Dangerous Choice

Dr. Leana Wen

"She’s intelligent. She’s articulate. She’s tenacious, and I think she’s very dangerous.”

That’s how Life Issues Institute President Bradley Mattes describes Dr. Leana Wen, the newly appointed president of Planned Parenthood. Ever since the organization announced last September it was elevating her to lead its operations, pro-life advocates like Mattes have been preparing for the inevitable battles ahead with increased vigilance.

“Leana has a very impressive resume and bio. [But] I have a difficult time calling her ‘doctor’ now that she will be heading up the largest chain of abortion facilities in the nation,” Mattes says.

“Doctors heal. Planned Parenthood, of course, does nothing even remotely similar.”

A Compelling Background

Wen, 35, does indeed have a compelling life story: Her family fled China for America when she was only seven years old. Once in the U.S., they settled in Compton, Calif., where Wen grew up. She has been quoted in several news outlets as saying she, her mother and sister depended on Planned Parenthood for health care as immigrants living in a new country.

From those humble beginnings, Wen would go on to become a Rhodes Scholar and medical doctor. Her career path eventually wound its way to Baltimore, where she garnered no small amount of attention as the city’s health commissioner. Wen was a leading voice in taking the Trump administration to court last August, accusing the White House of sabotaging the Affordable Care Act. She had previously fought the administration when it cut funds for programs aimed at preventing teen pregnancies; last April, a federal judge ordered $5 million in funding restored to two such programs as a result.

Her tenure in Baltimore also included less politically charged efforts and accomplishments: She was known for working with businesses and churches to close racial gaps in access to health care. Reducing the local infant mortality rate was another signature achievement.

Even Wen’s ideological opponents acknowledge her career up until now has produced much good.

“She’s been an advocate for health care for the disadvantaged in Baltimore. So she’s got the credentials to move forward,” says Mattes. But he quickly adds, “The good that she’s done cannot overshadow the evil mantle she’s assumed now as [Planned Parenthood] president.”

A Veneer of Credibility

Wen is only the second M.D. to serve as president in Planned Parenthood’s 102-year history. Her background couldn’t be more different than that of her predecessor, Texas-bred political activist Cecile Richards, who stepped down last spring after 12 years at the organization’s helm.

“Planned Parenthood is clearly banking on Wen’s medical background to give them a veneer of credibility, while Cecile Richards’ expertise was in politics and PR,” says Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. “However, Wen has still been handed the task of selling abortion on demand to an American public that finds it repellent.”

The Washington Times reports the number of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood facilities increased almost 11 percent, to a total of three million, over the 12 years Richards was in charge, despite an overall 23 percent decline in patient visits. Whatever other health services Planned Parenthood provides, pro-life advocates say abortion has clearly grown to become the centerpiece of its business model. They expect Wen will have no choice but to try to keep it that way.

“The selection of Dr. Wen could be an opportunity for Planned Parenthood to live up to their claim of being the nation’s quintessential women’s health care provider,” says Quigley, “but more than 320,000 abortions a year—as well as potential profits from the harvest and sale of baby body parts—is simply too lucrative a business for them to want to change.”

Under Pressure

It’s not surprising Planned Parenthood would make such a dramatic change in leadership, given the pressure it’s facing. If hard evidence surfaces proving that the organization, as many pro-lifers have alleged, is selling body parts from aborted babies, Mattes says it could “gut” Planned Parenthood and strip away its federal funding. That could well be the organization’s death blow at a time when many of its funding sources have already dried up or are at risk of doing so.

Last May, the Trump administration announced rule changes to the Title X family planning program with the intent of excluding abortion providers from birth control funding. State efforts to withhold Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood are getting the green light from lawmakers and governors, including in South Carolina, where last year Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order barring the organization from the state’s Medicaid network. As this issue of Citizen went to press, that order was being challenged in court and an injunction kept it from taking effect, but the state legislature had gone on record supporting McMaster’s efforts.

Various restrictions passed by other state legislatures, according to news reports, have whittled the number of Planned Parenthood facilities from almost 900 in 2008 to fewer than 600 in 2018. Many of those restrictions, of course, currently are or soon will be tied up in the nation’s court system. But even there, Planned Parenthood is increasingly unlikely to get a friendly reception.

“Planned Parenthood definitely stands to lose ground, especially with President Trump in the White House and the rebalancing of the U.S. Supreme Court,” says Quigley. “Immediately after Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, the abortion giant announced a multimillion-
dollar strategy for the future that is entirely defensive. This speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the pro-life movement.”

Ready for a Fight

In its news release announcing Wen’s appointment, Planned Parenthood described her as “fearless.” Wen herself has been quoted by major news publications as saying, “I like a fight, and I’m good at it.”

Given the stiff headwinds Planned Parenthood is facing, pro-life advocates say it makes sense to select Wen and her warrior mentality to fight for its future.

“We need to keep at it and be as tenacious as the other side is—operating within the proper moral boundaries, of course,” says Mattes.

He and Quigley say it’s crucial for the pro-life movement to start laying the groundwork for a response to Wen’s expected tenacity now and, more importantly, to keep playing offense. There’s a real sense, says Mattes, that the twin goals of gutting Roe v. Wade and entirely removing government support for Planned Parenthood can be achieved.

“I think it’s a winnable situation. Just because they have a fancy, slick new president doesn’t mean they have the moral high ground or the reality hidden of what they do,” Mattes insists. “It’s being exposed more and more with each passing day.”

Originally published in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of Citizen magazine.

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