Planned Parenthood Chief: This Is the Fight of Our Lives

Dr. Leana Wen, the national president of Planned Parenthood and former Baltimore City health commissioner, speaks at the annual Planned Parenthood Maryland gala in Baltimore in April. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

With more than a dozen legal challenges to abortion laws winding their way through federal appellate courts and a Supreme Court that seems poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, state policies are becoming all the more important, Dr. Leana Wen, national president of Planned Parenthood, said Thursday.

In Maryland, lawmakers passed a bill that would reject federal Title X funding if a “gag rule” to prohibit family planning clinics funded by the program from making abortion referrals takes effect. And Maryland is among a dozen states that filed a lawsuit challenging the proposed rule, prompting a federal judge to issue a temporary injunction on Thursday, just a week before it would have gone into effect.

“At this time with [Donald] Trump as president and [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, states are a critical backstop and we depend on states like Maryland to lead the country,” Wen said in an interview with Maryland Matters before she gave the keynote address at the Planned Parenthood Maryland annual gala on Thursday evening in Baltimore.

“…States alone cannot be responsible for upholding the public health infrastructure in this country, but right now, when our health is under attack every day, we need everyone to step up as much as we can in order to protect access to health care.”

While Maryland may be on the leading edge of policies she supports, Wen said bills being passed in other states are cause for concern.

In the last eight years, 420 laws have been passed to restrict abortion access. So far this year, more than 260 bills have been introduced in statehouses throughout the country to restrict abortions, she said.

In the last year alone, four governors have signed “heartbeat bills” that ban abortions at six weeks – “when most women don’t even know that they’re pregnant,” Wen said. An Ohio heartbeat bill signed last week does not include exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

Advocates say a heartbeat bill passed in Georgia could cause women to be investigated for miscarriages, based on case law in the state.

And in Alabama, lawmakers are proposing a bill to ban abortions after two weeks – “which medically is not even a thing,” Wen said.

More stringent abortion bills have been introduced across the country with the goal to spark a Supreme Court challenge aimed at overturning the seminal decision in Roe v. Wade.

“In Washington and in too many statehouses across the country, politicians have chosen to endanger the health and lives of women to further their own agendas,” Wen said during her address.

If the case is overturned, 25 million women would live in states where abortion is outlawed, banned and criminalized, she said.

“These laws and these policies have nothing to do with medicine. They have everything to do with taking away bodily autonomy. And they have nothing to do with science – and everything to do with power.”

Wen, whose appearance was met with two standing ovations, said she left “the job that I love” as Baltimore City health commissioner because the country is at an inflection point for sexual and reproductive health. She is the first medical doctor to lead Planned Parenthood in 50 years.

“As a doctor, I know that keeping people unhealthy is a tool of oppression,” she said to applause. “And when we single out and stigmatize reproductive health care, that is a tool of misogyny.”

Wen also told advocates that they needed to work to “take back the language” surrounding abortion debates.

“They don’t get to call themselves pro-life when we are the ones providing life-saving health care every single day,” she said of anti-abortion protesters. “And we need to say loud and clear that being ‘pro-choice’ means that we are pro-women, pro-health and pro-family.”

On a more fundamental level, Wen added: “Reproductive health care, women’s health care cannot be seen to be any different than what it is: standard health care. And health care has to be a fundamental, human right.”

Wen spoke at the sold-out gala just hours after U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian in Washington state issued a nationwide temporary injunction halting the so-called “gag rule” from taking effect.

Earlier this week, an Oregon judge indicated she was prepared to do the same in a case that Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) had joined.

A guest at Thursday night’s gala, Frosh said he was pleased that the injunction was issued, but is prepared for the court battled to continue on.

“I think the rule the Trump administration is trying to put in effect is illegal and unconstitutional. That’s why we sued,” Frosh said.

Democrats in the General Assembly passed a bill this legislative session that would use state funding to replace federal Title X family planning dollars, if the gag rule ever takes effect. The federal government was expected to give Maryland about $3.2 million in Title X funding in 2020, according to state budget reports.

The bill has been sent to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) for consideration. In 2017, Hogan allowed a measure to take effect without his signature that required the creation of a state family planning program to provide continuity of care in the event of a federal funding cutoff.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for reporting on Dr Wen’s talk at the PPM gala last Thursday. It was an exhilarating talk – Dr Wen is a wonderful person and a great advocate for health care for all.

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