What Leana Wen didn’t know

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that clinics referring mothers for abortion services would no longer be able to receive Title X funding, effective immediately.

In 1970, Title X was enacted as part of the Public Health Services Act providing Health and Human Services funds to assist eligible low-income and uninsured applicants with family planning. From the beginning, Title X explicitly excluded funding for programmes that consider abortion to be a method of family planning.

One might think, then, that Planned Parenthood would be ineligible to receive this funding. Yet today, as one of the largest abortion providers in the country, it receives about $60 million a year from the programme. Indeed, from the beginning, Planned Parenthood has squeezed as many dollars from this federal subsidy as possible under the pretence that its counselling includes a whole range of contraceptive methods.

The Reagan Administration sought to restrict access to these funds by reinforcing the abortion ban for those receiving Title X funding – by insisting that they must physically and financially separate their abortion and reproductive services; and this was upheld by the Supreme Court in Rust v Sullivan, 1991. But during the Clinton Administration, the regulations were revised to allow for abortion referral as one of the acceptable methods. As a result, about 25 per cent of this federal funding goes directly to Planned Parenthood.

Last June, the Trump Administration introduced a new Protect Life Rule to change that, effectively returning to the pre-Clinton requirements, and so Planned Parenthood worked with several states to secure a preliminary injunction to block the rule. But last Thursday, in a 7-4 decision, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the new rule can go into effect. By March of next year, no clinic that performs abortions will be eligible for
Title X funding.

You can almost hear the sound of $60 million dollars being vacuumed out of Planned Parenthood’s annual budget. Even better for millions of women and their babies, Title X funding was not reduced at all – only redirected to those clinics where abortion isn’t a woman’s only choice, where women can see licensed medical professionals, where women can see their babies through free ultrasound services, and where they can actually receive the family planning counselling that Title X had intended from the beginning. It’s hard to know which is better news: all that money going out of Planned Parenthood’s accounts, or all that money going into the thousands of pro-life pregnancy health centers.

“Moloch” will probably look for new ways to circumvent the new Protect Life Rule, but for now, the “white glove” Nazis, as Pope Francis has called abortion providers, are poorer, and Schindler’s pro-life pregnancy clinics are a bit richer. Most importantly of all, more low-income and uninsured mothers – overwhelmingly minorities – will get the most important gift of all: the child in their womb.

Planned Parenthood hired the physician Leana Wen eight months ago to promote the conceit that it is committed to healthcare. That seemed like a reasonable political and public relations strategy at the time. But with blue states running campaigns for infanticide, and red states passing heartbeat bills, Planned Parenthood could no longer afford the fancy picture of themselves as healthcare providers. They fired Dr Wen last week precisely because they know very well that they are not really in the healthcare business. They are in the abortion business. It took the board the length of a pregnancy to realise that they didn’t need a doctor in charge, and they didn’t need someone who could soften their messaging for middle America – they needed someone who could fight for that sacrament of their whole enterprise: abortion.

This isn’t the first time Planned Parenthood has tried, and failed, to moderate its image. In 1992 it hired a nurse, Pamela Maraldo, to put the emphasis on “healthcare” rather than abortion. But it turns out whenever they do this, abortion rates stagnate, as they did under Maraldo. By 1995, Maraldo was out and in came Gloria Feldt, a Planned Parenthood career veteran who more than doubled the abortion rate during her tenure.

Planned Parenthood’s philosophical commitment to abortion requires a more vigorous political activism than most healthcare providers, such as Maraldo or Wen, can offer. The violence of abortion cannot rest for long with the softened image Wen sought to project. It requires an abortionist-in-chief. That’s what Cecile Richards (its president from 2006 to 2018) was, and that’s likely what they’ll look for again, even as they face new political headwinds that favour life.

What does Wen’s departure mean? What does it signify for those middle Americans she didn’t want to “isolate”? What does it mean philosophically and politically? It means that Planned Parenthood knows something Wen didn’t – that the masks have come off now. There can be no more subtlety about “reproductive health care”.

Middle America is perfectly aware that Planned Parenthood is in the abortion business, and increasingly voters are coming to see that abortion stops a beating human heart. This is why the two political options have become crystal clear: infanticide bills or heartbeat bills. Dr Wen wanted to steer a middle path. But philosophically there is no middle way between life and death. Americans must choose.

CC Pecknold is Associate Professor of Theology and a fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Read his columns at CatholicHeraldUS.com