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Planned Parenthood Removes Leana Wen As President After Less Than A Year

President of Planned Parenthood Leana Wen speaks during a protest against abortion bans on May 21 outside the Supreme Court in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin
President of Planned Parenthood Leana Wen speaks during a protest against abortion bans on May 21 outside the Supreme Court in Washington.

Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET

Planned Parenthood's President Leana Wen was removed from the position on Tuesday after less than a year on the job.

Wen, who said she and the board had been in negotiations about her management style, wrote on Twitter that she was ousted during a "secret meeting."

"I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood," Wen later said in a statement.

"I believe 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 health care as the fundamental health care that it is," the 36-year-old former health commissioner in Baltimore added.

Wen took over in September 2018 after longtime president Cecile Richards stepped down. Wen was only the second medical doctor to run Planned Parenthood.

Her removal comes at a critical moment for the organization as state legislatures have recently passed severely restrictive abortion bans that could end up before the Supreme Court — and lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade now that the court has a conservative majority with the addition of Brett Kavanaugh.

Wen's departure also follows an announcement by the Trump administration Monday night that it is enforcing a rule that clinics that refer patients for abortions risk losing federal funding under the Title X program.

The move is a major blow to Planned Parenthood which is the largest single recipient of funding from the program.

NPR's Sarah McCammon reportedthat Planned Parenthood employees have noted concerns about Wen's leadership style and questioned whether she was equipped to lead the organization through such a turbulent period. Additionally, they were increasingly uneasy about her ability to execute on the advocacy that the board sees as imperative to the group's mission.

However, McCammon reported, there is internal skepticism that Wen's firing stemmed from philosophical differences. One person said that Wen was perceived as being "out of her depth."

The board of directors of both the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund issued a terse statement Tuesday, thanking Wen for her brief stint at the helm but did not provide an explanation for her firing.

Alexis McGill Johnson is stepping in as acting president and CEO effective immediately.

"Alexis is a renowned social justice leader, lifelong political organizer, and a tireless advocate for reproductive rights and access to quality, affordable health care," PPFA board Chair Aimee Cunningham and PPAF Board Chair Jennie Rosenthal said in a joint statement.

McGill has served as a Planned Parenthood board member for nearly a decade and acted as Planned Parenthood's Board Chair from 2013 to 2015.

McGill said she is "proud to step in to serve" in the role and to " facilitate a smooth leadership transition in this critical moment for Planned Parenthood and the patients and communities we serve."

Planned Parenthood said it will start the search for a new leader early next year.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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