With abortion rights under attack, Wen is out as president of Planned Parenthood

Leana Wen photo from WSJ Future of Everything Festival
Leana Wen, M.D., was ousted Tuesday as the president of Planned Parenthood. (ProductionManager/Adam Shultz)

In a surprise move, Planned Parenthood Tuesday removed its president, Leana Wen, M.D., after less than a year in the job.

Wen, who was the public face of Planned Parenthood, was voted out as the group decided it needed new leadership amid abortion rights coming under increasing attack from the Trump administration and some states.

The move appeared to take even Wen by surprise. “I just learned that the [Planned Parenthood] board ended my employment at a secret meeting,” Wen said on her Twitter account, later releasing a statement.

Wen said she and the board were engaged in good faith negotiations over her department based on what she called “philosophical differences” over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.

In a statement posted on its website, the board of directors of the Planned Parenthood Federation of American (PPFA) and its political arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF), announced Wen’s departure. They said Alexis McGill Johnson was named acting president and CEO, effective immediately. Johnson is a former member of the board of the PPAF as well as a former chair and member of the board of the PPFA.

“We thank Dr. Leana Wen for her service to Planned Parenthood in such a pivotal time and extend our best wishes for her continued success,” said PPFA board chair Aimee Cunningham and PPAF board chair Jennie Rosenthal. Planned Parenthood said a search for a new president will start early next year, with a goal of having a new permanent leader in place by the end of the year.

“I am proud to step in to serve as acting president and facilitate a smooth leadership transition in this critical moment for Planned Parenthood and the patients and communities we serve,” said Johnson.

Wen’s removal came after hours of negotiations Tuesday between the board of directors and Wen, The New York Times reported, citing two people familiar with the decision.

Wen posted a two-paragraph statement on her Twitter account about her stepping down as president/CEO of Planned Parenthood.

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“As a physician and public health leader, I came to Planned Parenthood to lead a national healthcare organization that provides essential primary and preventive care to millions of underserved women and families, and to advocate for a broad range of policies that affect our patients’ health,” she wrote.

“I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a healthcare one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive healthcare as the fundamental healthcare that it is,” she said.

She cited philosophical differences with the new board chairs as the reason for her departure. She said she will always stand with Planned Parenthood and continued what she called her life’s work and mission of caring for and fighting for women, families and communities.

Wen was the first physician in decades to lead Planned Parenthood.

The Times said its sources indicated there had been internal differences over her management, and the organization wanted a more aggressive leader in the fight to maintain access to abortions.

In naming Johnson as Wen’s replacement, the Planned Parenthood chairs described her as “a renowned social justice leader, lifelong political organizer, and a tireless advocate for reproductive rights and access to quality, affordable healthcare.”

One pro-life organization, Americans United for Life, said it would not matter who was leading Planned Parenthood and vowed to continue the abortion fight.

"Planned Parenthood has long claimed that healthcare encompasses the intentional killing of unwanted human persons, and Dr. Leana Wen—despite her brief eight-month tenure—has consistently traded on her training as a physician to perpetuate Planned Parenthood's falsehood that 'abortion is healthcare,'” said Catherine Glenn Foster, the group’s president and CEO.

“The pro-life movement is continuing to rack up legal victories at the state and federal levels, and we have every intention of building on those victories until we reach a post-Roe v. Wade era, and we will do that no matter who is leading America's deadliest non-profit,” Foster said.