Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Leana Wen Fights For Reproductive Health

Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen seen here in 2012. AP Photo/Steven Senne
Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen seen here in 2012. AP Photo/Steven Senne

Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Leana Wen Fights For Reproductive Health

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Last week, a federal judge in Oregon put a temporary nationwide injunction on a controversial Trump administration rule that would prevent groups that provide abortion referrals from receiving funds from the federal family planning program, known as Title X.

The rule was scheduled to go into effect May 3, but it is now on hold.

One of the key organizations that would feel the impact of the so-called Title X “gag rule” is Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health care and sex education to millions of people across the country and abroad.

Morning Shift guest host Odette Yousef checks in with Dr. Leana Wen, the first physician to run the group in half a century, about reproductive health, combating the Trump administration and where Illinois and Indiana fit in to the nationwide picture on abortion rights. 

Maternal mortality is on the rise in the U.S.

Dr. Leana Wen: This is a time for our country where there is a huge unmet need for healthcare. We look at maternal mortality as an example. Women today are 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than our mothers. The U.S. is the only industrialized country where that’s true. Actually, the other countries where maternal mortality is rising include Zimbabwe and North Korea. African American women in the U.S. today are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. There’s huge unmet need for health care, for women’s health care in particular. And the more that we stigmatize and silo out one aspect of health care, the more we’re harming people’s health.

What is Title X?

Dr. Wen: Title X is our nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care. It has been in existence for almost 50 years. It was established in a bipartisan manner, and it makes sure that people who don’t have health insurance, who live in rural areas, people who have low-income, still have access to health care. And across the country four million people depend on Title X for things like breast and cervical cancer screenings, STI treatment, HIV testing and other primary and preventive services.

What effect would the Title X ‘gag rule’ have on patients?

Dr. Wen: What the Trump administration did about two months ago is to issue a gag rule on Title X, saying that if you are a clinic, a health center, that receives federal funding, then you have to force your doctors to censor what they can and cannot say to patients about reproductive health. And specifically, if a woman comes in requesting abortion care, we are not even able to give a referral, even if she asks for it, and it’s not clear what we would do if it’s medically necessary. This is something that directly compromises the oath that I took in becoming a doctor. It’s something that frankly is unethical, and this is the reason why over 100 medical, nursing and public health groups have stood up in opposition to this Title X gag rule.

What happens to people who go without access to health care?

Dr. Wen: In Texas, when our health centers were forced to close, 45,000 fewer people received care. The rate of unintended pregnancies increased, and the rate of maternal mortality nearly doubled. In Iowa, when four of our health centers closed, 15,000 people went without care, and the rate of gonorrhea quadrupled. In Indiana, when the only health center that serves Scott County closed, 24,000 people were left without care. And not uncoincidentally, this led to one of the biggest HIV outbreaks in the U.S.

How Illinois and Indiana stack up on reproductive health care

Odette Yousef: Earlier this month, just over the border in Indiana, lawmakers passed a bill that would effectively ban the most common second-trimester abortion procedure. Last week, the ACLU sued over it. You’re going to be in Chicago later this week for the Planned Parenthood Illinois Generations Celebration where you’ll discuss the role that Illinois plays in the Midwest when it comes to access to reproductive health care. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Dr. Wen: This ban passed in Indiana is one more example of a dangerous and disturbing pattern, which is part of this pattern to ban all safe, legal abortion… That’s what we’re seeing all across the country, that there are bills being introduced that are horrific. The bill that was passed in Georgia allows the state to investigate women for miscarriages. A bill introduced in Texas would impose the death penalty for women who have abortion care. This is why we need states, including Illinois to step up and introduce legislation that would protect and expand the right to reproductive health care, which is health care. And that’s why Illinois’s Reproductive Health Act, for example, is something that’s so critical.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click “play” above to hear the full interview.

GUEST: Dr. Leana Wen, President of Planned Parenthood

LEARN MORE: Time 100 Most Influential People 2019: Dr. Leana Wen (Time Magazine)

Judge Temporarily Blocks Trump Rule On Abortion Referrals (New York Times 4/25/19)

ACLU Sues Indiana On Near-Ban On Most Common Second-Trimester Abortion Procedure (Indianapolis Star 4/25/19)