Planned Parenthood's never-ending identity crisis

And yet, Maraldo, Wattleton’s successor, did exactly that: She tried to steer the organization away from its association with abortion and cultivate its reputation as a mainstream health-care provider. At the time, in the early 1990s, Planned Parenthood had just won a major victory at the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed the fundamental principles of Roe in its decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Bill Clinton had just won the White House, and the Democratic Party held both chambers of Congress. The possibility of sweeping health-care reforms seemed real, and Maraldo, a former nurse, wanted to make sure Planned Parenthood would have a voice in those debates. She also gave a number of interviews arguing that abortion should not be the center of Planned Parenthood’s identity.

“Abortion, abortion, abortion—it’s like waving red flags in front of a bull. We do so much else,” Maraldo told me recently. At its core, she said, the fight over abortion is “really about reproductive control and privacy.” While she believes abortion should be safe and available to women who need it, she saw—and sees—prevention as the main mission of Planned Parenthood. According to the organization’s own data, that’s true: Abortion accounts for only 3.4 percent of the services offered at the national network of Planned Parenthood affiliates, while consultations on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases make up 75 percent. In 2017, Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 332,757 abortions.

In recent years, the abortion-rights movement has turned away from Clinton’s argument that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” instead promoting campaigns to “shout your abortion” and creating ice-cream flavors with names such as “Rocky Roe v. Wade.” This kind of rhetoric “would not be my choice,” Maraldo, who now leads Girls Inc. of New York, told me.

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