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What one author says a post-Roe U.S. reveals about Planned Parenthood

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The future of abortion providers was brought into question when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Yesterday, Planned Parenthood announced that it needs to restructure following that decision and that it plans to lay off employees. In a statement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund said the organization will reimagine its national office and invest $70 million in its affiliates. In a recent piece for The New Yorker, Eyal Press took a look at how independent abortion providers and Planned Parenthood interact. The piece was called "The Problem with Planned Parenthood." Eyal Press joins us now. Welcome.

EYAL PRESS: Thank you so much.

SUMMERS: So there was the sense in your reporting that Planned Parenthood was perhaps too corporate. Tell us a bit about what you found.

PRESS: Yeah, I mean, generally speaking, the slogan that is Planned Parenthood's motto is - care no matter what. And those are words that suggest, you know, an uncompromising commitment to serving patients and to broadening access to abortion care. And I think that what I found among independent abortion providers and reproductive rights advocates in many places that I went to is that there is a sense that the organization is more corporate and more cautious when it comes to fulfilling that mission than is widely known.

SUMMERS: More corporate and more cautious - can you give us one or two examples of, in practice, what that looks like, how it plays out?

PRESS: Sure. Well, in Montana, right after Roe v. Wade was overturned, there was an announcement - actually, it wasn't an announcement. It was a leaked email from Martha Fuller, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Montana. And in that email, it said that Planned Parenthood would not be providing medication abortion, which is now the most common way to terminate a pregnancy, to out-of-state patients in order to avoid the legal risks - the hazards of getting sued. And this really surprised the two independent abortion clinics that are in the state. Now, I should say the decision was eventually reversed. But it is indicative of the kind of caution that I think sometimes prevails.

SUMMERS: We reached out to Planned Parenthood for a comment on this interview, and they responded to us with the letter that they sent to your editor in response to your piece. And in it, they say that the piece was, quote, "rife with misleading generalizations." How do you respond to that?

PRESS: Well, you know, I traveled across the country to report this story. I spoke to abortion providers in numerous states, and I very much stand by the reporting as does The New Yorker.

SUMMERS: As someone who's reported extensively on Planned Parenthood and how Planned Parenthood and independent abortion providers interact, I'm curious what you make of the organization's move to pare back its national staff and to reimagine its work. It seems, from the outside, to showcase a shift in priorities.

PRESS: Yeah, I think this is kind of an overdue shift in the eyes of many. I do think that it remains to be seen whether we see the kind of commitment to expand into remote areas. You know, we are a country - even before Roe was overturned, somewhere on the order of 90% of the counties in the United States had no abortion services. And one of the reasons it was a crisis is because of a perception that Planned Parenthood didn't do enough with all the resources it has to really push into these remote areas, to really think strategically - what are the moves we can make to serve the people who most need it?

SUMMERS: One thing that Planned Parenthood has been clear about is that part of the goal here is to invest in those local affiliates. And given that you've reported on some of the criticisms that have come to Planned Parenthood, I'm curious, how far do you think that kind of shift in focus can go towards addressing those concerns?

PRESS: Well, I think it will remain to be seen. You know, are we going to see clinics that provide both medication and surgical abortion opened in parts of states where there's nothing right now?

SUMMERS: Eyal Press, thank you so much for being here.

PRESS: Thank you so much for having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Mia Venkat
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
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