Leana Wen formally took the reins as president of Planned Parenthood on Nov. 12, but she has basked in the national spotlight from an affectionate media for months — ever since America’s largest abortion business announced that it had hired the motivated young Baltimore physician as its public face and fundraiser in chief.
On her first day as Planned Parenthood’s leader, she appeared on “CBS The Morning” without once even uttering the word “abortion” or speaking beyond platitudes about issues on which no one genuinely disagrees, such as the need for authentic, comprehensive healthcare for all persons.
As ThinkProgress notes, Wen consistently cites her experience as “a doctor and a scientist” to suggest that no aspect of Planned Parenthood’s work should be subject to public debate. However, Wen speaks in the manner of a politician rather than with the specificity of a physician addressing concrete medical facts. And while no physician should shy away from a truthful description of the medical realities confronting their patients, Wen refuses even to acknowledge her role as America’s preeminent abortion advocate — let alone to address the ethical and philosophical questions that lie at the heart of her organization’s work.
Catherine Glenn Foster, the president of Americans United for Life, encouraged journalists to ask Wen the question that matters: “Is a preborn child’s right to life only secure if that child’s parents want her? And if so, what makes that a scientific or medical basis for determining human rights?”
So as long as Wen continues to avoid speaking about her organization’s work, it’s worth examining five of her favorite talk points. Do Wen’s talking points reflect reality?
1. No federal funds go toward abortion.
At one of Wen’s first television appearances on “The View,” co-host Sunny Hostin asked why Planned Parenthood isn’t more transparent with its abortion reporting. She cited the Washington Post’s assessment that Planned Parenthood earned “Three Pinocchios” for claiming that abortion only accounts for 3 percent of its health services.
Wen dodged the question with the common Planned Parenthood talking point that “there are no federal taxpayer dollars that go towards abortions,” even though according to the Guttmacher Institute, Medicaid pays for 24 percent of them. The Hyde Amendment protects federal dollars from going toward abortion except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest; however, 15 states provide coverage beyond Hyde’s restrictions. So the common claim that “no federal taxpayer dollars” go toward abortions directly contradicts the fact that Medicaid, a joint federal-state program, finances abortion.
2. Planned Parenthood thinks “healthcare shouldn’t be political.”
Wen has repeated the talking point that “healthcare shouldn’t be political” and that she is “a doctor and not a politician.” But Planned Parenthood Action has spent millions over the years lobbying elected officials, opposing or promoting legislation and regulations, and giving to candidates interested in making abortion a political issue. In 2016 alone, the group spent close to $1 million lobbying on Capitol Hill and furnished $897,115 to candidates running for federal office. Planned Parenthood Action also endorses political candidates, such as Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton in 2016, and 261 candidates who ran for public office in the 2018 midterm elections.
Wen’s position as president of Planned Parenthood inherently makes her a political figure, and her previous work as Baltimore health commissioner vehemently fighting the Trump administration’s Title X changes, shows just how political she is. In a statement announcing her selection as Planned Parenthood’s president in September, Wen quoted former Democratic first lady Michelle Obama and stated that “at this critical juncture in our nation’s history, it is my obligation to take on this challenge and fight with everything I have.” Her words constantly bring politics into the equation, and it is hardly fair to say she is not a political figure, especially in her current role.
3. Trump has a “litmus test” for Supreme Court picks.
When asked about Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, Wen often repeated the falsity that President Trump has a “litmus test” to appoint only Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. Her claim was proven to be untrue when Trump made clear that he never discussed the issue of abortion with Kavanaugh and that his advisers specifically told him he shouldn’t discuss it. Wen continued to repeat the fictitious claim, with the justification that she shouldn’t have to “take [Trump] at his word.”
On Dec. 10 Kavanaugh, along with Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal Supreme Court justices, declined to hear two cases involving taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, Andersen v. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and Gee v. Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast. Before Kavanaugh was confirmed, he promised to “keep an open mind in every case,” and his decision not to hear these cases substantiates that promise. It might be a good time for Wen to start taking the president at his word, instead of just repeating the same tired talking points.
4. Planned Parenthood has done the most for women’s health over the last century.
On numerous other TV appearances, Wen has lauded Planned Parenthood’s unprovable claim that it has “done more for women’s health than any other [organization] for the last 100 years,” citing the accomplishments of its founder Margaret Sanger. Although there is substantial evidence to document Sanger’s work, she “made her tracks hard to follow: she altered dates … and retold stories to suit her own, often obscure designs.”
The verdict on Sanger’s incomplete and heavily airbrushed record is murky at best and horrifying at worst, especially given her asinine statements disparaging select demographics. Her comment that “the most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it” is particularly memorable. For Wen to claim that Planned Parenthood has done more for women’s health, when countless other women such as Susan B. Anthony, Abigail Adams, and Harriet Tubman dedicated their lives to protecting women’s rights, makes me question Wen’s attention to facts. After all, isn’t she “a doctor and a scientist”? Don’t scientists turn to facts when making claims?
5. Planned Parenthood provides “life-saving care.”
Wen’s first months as Planned Parenthood’s new darling show just how out of touch she is with the people the organization supposedly serves. Her rhetoric that Planned Parenthood provides “life-saving, life-changing care” and that she has “seen more preventable deaths than [she] can count or recall,” while ignoring the 321,384 babies’ lives her company ended through abortion last year alone, is hypocritical.
The American people have listened to Planned Parenthood’s inaccuracies, exaggerations, and politicization of women’s health for too long, and it’s become more apparent that women do not need them. More than 13,000 non-abortion-performing federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics operate to serve Americans in communities all across the country, outnumbering Planned Parenthood’s facilities by a ratio of 20 to 1.
Wen can try banking on her credentials and rattling off as many Planned Parenthood talking points as she likes, but when it comes to protecting real women and children, Planned Parenthood does not provide anything remotely resembling real women’s healthcare.
John Block is digital communications manager at Americans United for Life.