A More Human Society
While claiming to serve women's overall "reproductive health," in 96 percent of cases what it provides to pregnant women is abortion.
Cecile Richards, who plans to retire this year as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has authored a self-congratulatory memoir called "Make Trouble."
During her decade-long leadership, trouble is certainly something the organization has created. While it serves fewer clients than in 2005, its share of the nation's abortions has increased from under one-fifth to over one-third. While claiming to serve women's overall "reproductive health," in 96 percent of cases what it provides to pregnant women is abortion.
The organization has opposed "conscience clauses" allowing health professionals to decline involvement in abortion. In 2014, it decided to abandon even the phrase "pro-choice," to focus on demanding greater access to abortion -- including access by women who never wanted it. In 2010, Planned Parenthood began demanding that every affiliate perform abortions, a policy that led a few affiliates to leave the organization. Even its own members have no choice.
This fixation on abortion is on display in advance excerpts from Richards' memoir published by People and Cosmopolitan. Two incidents stand out for me.
In a passage described by People as "riveting," Richards recounts being invited to meet with President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner shortly after the 2016 election. They personally asked her to consider the policy that candidate President Trump announced during his campaign: He would ensure federal funding of Planned Parenthood if it stopped performing abortions.
The House of Representatives had overwhelmingly approved a bill saying the same thing in 2015. Federal law places the same requirement on, for example, the U.N. Population Fund as a condition for federal funding. And some in Congress wanted to defund the organization whether it performs abortions or not. So this was hardly an extreme offer.
Richards could have returned to her office and told her staff: "Nothing new. They defended the new president's policy." Instead, she works up manufactured moral outrage over what she calls an attempt to "bribe" the organization to stop doing abortions. In a 2017 fundraising email, she described as "obscene and insulting" the idea that Planned Parenthood might care about anything more than it cares about killing the unborn.
The other incident involves the fight over the health legislation many call "Obamacare." Richards was very upset that a measure supported by the Catholic bishops, known as the Stupak amendment after its Democratic sponsor, was included in the overall bill passed by the House of Representatives. (She calls it a ban on abortion coverage, though it only reflected the policy on federal funding of abortion that has governed other federal health programs for decades.)
Richards then won from her board a decision to oppose the entire measure, which she emphasizes would bring much-needed health benefits for all women, solely because it would not expand federally subsidized abortion.
When Congress removed the Stupak amendment and made other changes, the U.S. bishops decided they had to oppose the final bill for three reasons: abortion, lack of conscience protection and a failure to cover immigrants. And self-styled progressives castigated them for endangering the bill's benefits over what they saw as narrow concerns.
Will these commentators now criticize Planned Parenthood for its willingness to defeat Obamacare because the House's version did not actively advance the group's agenda on the single issue of abortion? Frankly, I will not hold my breath waiting for that day.
But Cecile Richards' memoir may reveal more than she intended about what Planned Parenthood cares about more than anything or anyone else. The next time someone tells you the Catholic Church is obsessed with abortion, point out that there is an organization that really is.
Richard Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.
Recent articles in the Culture & Events section
The current crisisGeorge Weigel
Bright spotsRussell Shaw
Letter to an angry friendGreg Erlandson
The McCarrick messBishop Robert Barron