After ouster from Planned Parenthood, former CEO Leana Wen is talking about takeaways, women's health

Leana Wen photo from WSJ Future of Everything Festival
Leana Wen, M.D., said she is figuring out her future “and how I can best contribute to improving the public’s health.” (ProductionManager/Adam Shultz)

It’s been three months since Leana Wen, M.D., was ousted as the head of Planned Parenthood, and now the former CEO is talking, saying her sudden departure was due to differences over “goals and strategy.”

Wen, the first physician in decades to lead Planned Parenthood, gave a rare interview since her departure to The Baltimore Sun in advance of her serving as keynote speaker at the newspaper’s Women to Watch networking event Oct. 10.

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

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Wen, the former Baltimore health commissioner and city resident, was asked about her main takeaway from her time at Planned Parenthood, where she served less than a year before she was removed last July.

“I learned that smart, well-meaning people can differ on goals and strategy, and that change is extremely hard, especially when a conventional approach is being retooled,” she said.

Publicly, she took the high road, refusing to speak badly about the women’s reproductive health organization that fired her.

“It was an incredible honor to represent an organization that has cared for one in five women in America—including my mother, my sister and me, at different points in our lives,” she said. “I had the opportunity to travel around the country and to meet incredibly dedicated doctors, nurses and advocates who put everything on the line to care for their patients. They face death threats, bomb scares and unbelievable harassment because reproductive healthcare is singled out and treated as something other than what it is: healthcare.”

“While I left Planned Parenthood sooner than I’d expected, I hope that some of the work my team and I started will continue, including the focus on public health and health equity,” she said.

RELATED: Planned Parenthood CEO Wen on 2020 election—It's the 'fight of our time'

Since leaving Planned Parenthood, Wen has taken a job as a visiting professor at George Washington University teaching health policy, although she says she is “figuring out next steps and how I can best contribute to improving the public’s health.” Trained as an emergency room physician, she said she plans to join the board of the Baltimore Community Foundation. She and her husband Sebastian are also expecting their second baby, due at the end of March.

Wen and Planned Parenthood last month resolved a dispute over her severance and benefits. Wen said the organization wanted her to sign an additional confidentiality contract as part of her separation agreement, which she called a “gag clause” on her Twitter account that would compromise her integrity.

Since Wen left Planned Parenthood, the organization’s political battles have continued. It withdrew in August from the Title X federal family planning program rather than comply with a new Trump administration rule prohibiting providers from referring women for abortions. The group is operating its clinics without the $60 million in Title X funding from the federal government.

Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association filed a lawsuit in March to overturn the so-called “gag rule.”

This week, the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) announced it was redistributing $34 million in Title X funds that are no longer going to Planned Parenthood and some states. The money was awarded to 50 grantees that decided to remain in the Title X program, which funds birth control and other reproductive health services for millions of low-income women and men. However, five states—Maine, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington—will no longer be served by the Title X program, according to the Associated Press.

HHS said it expects the supplemental awards will enable grantees to come close to—if not exceed—prior Title X patient coverage. The agency also said it prioritized funds to unserved and underserved jurisdictions and low-income individuals, with the goal of filling service gaps left by the grantees that chose to leave the Title X program. 

In the newspaper interview, Wen said the Maryland state legislature was the first in the country to pass protections for Title X funding. “When it comes under threat from the Trump administration, low-income women in Maryland can still receive cancer screenings, STI tests and birth control,” she said.

In other news Wednesday, Planned Parenthood unveiled a new facility it has been building in secret in southern Illinois for over a year, to help meet demand from neighboring Missouri, which only has one abortion clinic left that is fighting for its license, according to CBS News. The 18,000-square-foot "mega-clinic," located 13 miles outside of St. Louis, will be one of the largest abortion facilities in the country and is set to open to patients later this month. Planned Parenthood used a shell company to construct the facility to avoid protestors and delays.

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