A Different Take on the President of Planned Parenthood's Visit to UCLA

By Nina Rose, Editor in Chief

I think it’s very useful to get out of one’s echo chamber every once in a while. That’s why, on January 31st, I attended a UCLA event hosted by Medical Students for Choice called, “The Role of Advocacy in the Medical Profession,” featuring the President of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Leana Wen.

I came to report on her talk, but also to understand. To compare my logic, beliefs, and values as a pro-life advocate, with hers. To see where they align — and where they diverge.

I found that I agreed with a large portion of Dr. Wen’s speech, and in many ways my values aligned with hers. She proudly recounted reducing infant mortality in Baltimore during her time as Health Commissioner there. She emphasized the need to treat patients as whole humans, and healthcare as not simply a physical service, but an active interest in a person’s overall well-being. She exhorted her audience to speak up for others when their health and lives are at stake.

However, I also found myself strongly disagreeing with her. Over her scathing descriptions of protesters outside abortion clinics. Over her fear that Roe vs. Wade may, one day soon, be overturned. Over her dismissal of abortion imagery and the risks of abortion as things “that politicians came up with that are not based on any medical fact.”

So what happened? At what point do our core values — to help our neighbors, to stand up for others, to care — diverge to result in radically opposing views? To result in myself becoming the president of a campus pro-life club, and in her becoming the leader of the largest abortion provider in the country? Let me point to one moment in her speech, where she described a recently-introduced South Dakota bill that would require an abortion provider to show a pregnant women an ultrasound prior to her obtaining an abortion. While she affirmed that Planned Parenthood would follow the letter of the law, she added, “But we can do things like — [in the case of a] forced ultrasound — we can provide women with the option to wear an eye mask. Or ear plugs.” Laughter and applause.

Let’s unpack this. According to Dr. Wen and her audience, there is something triumphant — funny, even — in using an eye mask to hide from a pregnant woman the sight of the life growing within her, and in using earplugs to block out the sound of its heartbeat. While Dr. Wen can dismiss imagery and statistics used by pro-lifers as “medically inaccurate,” she cannot deny the validity of an ultrasound. So what does she suggest? Put on a blindfold. Plug your ears.

With this self-inflicted blindness in mind, let’s revisit some of the other things Dr. Wen talked about.

“Within seven years we reduced infant mortality in our city by 38 percent.” And, “In 2009, an African American baby born in Baltimore was five times more likely to die than a white baby. ... In my time in Baltimore and since 2009, we have reduced the disparity between black and white infant mortality by over 50 percent.” We both fight to preserve the lives of the youngest members of the human species. We both fight to reduce the racial disparity that doesn’t only exist in infant mortality — but also in abortion, especially in places like New York City, where more black babies are aborted than brought to term. Our only difference is whether or not we believe that an embryo or a fetus has value, and whether that life perceptible through an ultrasound deserves protection.

This is the point of division: whether and how we answer the question, “What are the unborn?” How we answer this question determines whether we fight for a women’s right to affirm her freedom and autonomy, or fight to protect innocent children from brutal death.

“[T]aking the public health approach ... really is our way of saving many more lives later.” She then referenced the motto of Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health: “‘Saving lives, millions at a time.’ ... I think that that’s the benefit of this — of this public health approach.” Saving lives, millions at a time. But if you ask the question at hand — what are the unborn — what if the answer means that instead of saving lives, you were taking them millions at a time?

Concerning how, as Health Commissioner of Baltimore, she sued the Trump Administration to reinstate funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, Dr. Wen said, “[I]f there is something that is affecting our patients lives, and their ability to get life-saving care, ... it’s also our obligation to speak up too.” What if that’s what the protestors — those standing outside of abortion clinics whom she denounced — are trying to do, in their seldom perfect way, sometimes even in ways that do more harm than good, but so often with the best of intentions (as I know, having been myself one of those protesters)?

So, you see, the entire abortion debate centers around one question: what are the unborn? What is their value? Is that shape in the ultrasound a meaningless blob, or a whole, living human being? Is that heartbeat the heartbeat of a clump of cells, or of a child?

And do you dare to look and listen?  

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