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Politics & Policy

Planned Parenthood President Ousted after Less Than a Year in Charge

Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest against anti-abortion legislation at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Leana Wen, a physician who has led Planned Parenthood since last fall, announced via Twitter this afternoon that she has been ousted from her position by the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Wen, a physician who was most recently a health commissioner in Baltimore, said the board voted to replace her at a “secret meeting,” even as they “were engaged in good faith negotiations about [her] departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”

According to the New York Times report this afternoon, sources said “there had been internal strife over [Wen’s] management” and Planned Parenthood leaders believed the group “needed a more aggressive political leader to fight the efforts to roll back access to abortions.”

Wen was appointed to lead Planned Parenthood last September after the resignation of Cecile Richards, who had served as the group’s president for twelve years. Wen gave more context on her ouster in a statement released on Twitter just after the news broke:

As a physician and public health leader, I came to Planned Parenthood to lead a national health care 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. I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is.

I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood. It has been an honor and privilege to serve alongside our dedicated doctors, nurses, clinicians, staff, and volunteers who are on the frontlines of health care in our country. I will always stand with Planned Parenthood, as I continue my life’s work and mission of caring for and fighting for women, families, and communities.

Wen’s short tenure had been largely free of controversy. Though she evidently wasn’t as polished as Richards nor nearly as adept at presenting the group’s talking points, she managed to avoid any significant missteps. The biggest blip came in January, when she gave an interview to BuzzFeed outlining her strategy to expand provision of routine health-care services for women. The piece also noted Wen’s supposed effort to refocus the group away from politics: “People aren’t coming to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement,” Wen said at the time.

But after the profile came out, the Planned Parenthood president claimed to be unhappy with the final product. “I am always happy to do interviews, but these headlines completely misconstrue my vision for Planned Parenthood,” she tweeted the morning the BuzzFeed piece dropped. “Our core mission is providing, protecting and expanding access to abortion and reproductive health care.”

This episode, though not itself a death knell for her presidency, was revealing. Unlike Richards, Wen didn’t have a knack for balancing Planned Parenthood’s self-contradictory talking points. The group’s executives ritually parrot the false statistic that abortion is a mere 3 percent of its services. Its latest PR campaign revolved around the slogan “This is health care,” clearly an effort to redirect away from discussion of abortion and recast it as a health-care procedure. With her attempt to backtrack from what appeared to be insufficient dedication to abortion rights, Wen accidentally revealed that Planned Parenthood sees itself, first and foremost, as an abortion provider.

One way to look at her departure is through the lens of that BuzzFeed interview, especially in light of her statement today. Was Wen sincerely more concerned with expanding real health-care options at Planned Parenthood, and less concerned with expanding its provision of abortion — and that’s why she was unceremoniously dismissed? Possibly. But it’s difficult to imagine that could be true of someone so willing to lie in service of preserving a regime of unlimited abortion on demand.


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