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Internal Problems at Planned Parenthood

By Jim Sedlak

Planned Parenthood has a number of internal problems that it doesn’t talk about in public. But, behind the scenes, when PP executives from various affiliates get together, the discussion will frequently revolve around three internal issues that affect all affiliates to a greater or lesser degree. Those three problems are volunteers, communications, and management styles.

How do we know this? Well, STOPP’s Jim Sedlak was in the hotel in Washington, DC, last week when Planned Parenthood Federation of America conducted its 2019 annual conference. It was attended by PP executives from all across the country. Although Jim was kept out of any formal meetings and even out of the area of the hotel where PP’s conference was held, he was able this year, as in the past, to listen to conversations in restaurants, night spots, and lobbies of the hotel. When people socialize, they talk. And when Planned Parenthood people talk, Jim listens.

The volunteer problem is very straightforward: Many affiliates can’t find enough. Planned Parenthood has always relied on volunteers to perform a number of activities. Clinic escorts (or death escorts, as they are better known in the pro-life community) is an obvious example of volunteers performing what Planned Parenthood sees as a vital role. Abby Johnson’s upcoming film Unplanned (release date March 29) documents that this is how she began her association with Planned Parenthood. Escorts are just one of the many activities within Planned Parenthood where volunteers are needed (peer recruitment, organize pizza parties, attend public forums, plan fundraisers, etc.). A number of PP executives lamented that they can’t find enough volunteers. Although they did discuss how to better attract volunteers, they did not identify why they have this problem. We would speculate that it has to do with the baby-body-parts videos as well as the decline in Planned Parenthood’s favorable ratings with the general public. Whatever the reason, the problem is real and widespread.

The second problem is one of communications. Although all large corporations suffer from this issue, it appears Planned Parenthood’s organizational strategies are contributing to the problem. Just since the beginning of the 21st century, Planned Parenthood has gone from 132 affiliates to 55. While this reduction has made for easier communications between the national office and the affiliates, it has created a communications problem within the affiliates. At the beginning of the year 2000, the average PP affiliate had 6.5 clinics. Today, the average affiliate has 10.7 clinics (a 65 percent increase). In addition, many of the affiliates have expanded geographically. Just last month, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky entered into a strategic alliance with Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. One person will be CEO of the entire operation that spans six states (Indiana, Kentucky, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, and western Washington) and thousands of miles. Other states (like New York and California) have multiple affiliates within the state and must communicate statewide activities across all the diverse boards and communities—a daunting task.

The third problem he heard discussed was another that is common in large corporations: management styles. When a person is named CEO of a multi-million-dollar Planned Parenthood affiliate, he takes that as an endorsement of his management style. Thus, he implements policies and programs with which he is comfortable. Large corporations attempt to control these variations through management training programs and management selection processes. The problem that Planned Parenthood has is that it is not one corporation. It is, in fact, 56 different corporations and each one has an independent board of directors that chooses the CEO, and other executives, of their affiliate. While the national office tries to hold training sessions and educational programs, the fact is that there is no national control. The specific complaints heard at the conference were ones where a good executive figured out an effective management system for an affiliate and was then replaced by another who undid all the good stuff because it was not his way of operating.

These three issues are not the only internal problems at Planned Parenthood, but they were the ones on the minds of a number of affiliate execs who talked with each other in the national conference hotel this year. They inadvertently gave local pro-lifers inside information on ways to hinder Planned Parenthood’s plans for their community. An obvious outcome would be to implement programs that discourage individuals from volunteering at Planned Parenthood.

Jim Sedlak is executive director of American Life League, founder of STOPP International, and host of a live talk show on the Radio Maria Network. He has been successfully fighting Planned Parenthood since 1985.