The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has announced the removal of Leana Wen as president and CEO.
While PPFA did not give a reason for its decision to oust Wen less than a year after her appointment, Wen, the first physician in decades to lead the organization, said in a statement, "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 health care as the fundamental health care that it is. I am leaving because the new [b]oard [c]hairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood."
"The new [b]oard leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy," Wen wrote in a letter addressed to her colleagues. "With the landscape changing dramatically in the last several months and the right to safe, legal abortion care under attack like never before, I understand the shift in the [b]oard's prioritization."
Wen noted in her letter that PPFA had "successfully defeated numerous state bans and passed more proactive legislation to protect abortion access than any year in recent history," but sources told the New York Times that the board felt the organization needed a more aggressive, politically focused leader. Abortion rights groups around the country increasingly are facing pressure from Republican-controlled legislatures eager to restrict legal access to abortion and erode other protections established by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
"This is a crisis time in terms of the impact on the patients we serve and the communities we serve," Amanda Skinner, Planned Parenthood Southern New England president and CEO, told the Times. "I think that Dr. Wen is obviously a very thoughtful leader in health care. I think what is critical for Planned Parenthood is how much we all have to really lean hard on all of the elements of our mission."
According to the Times, differences over whether to prioritize advocacy or health care, as well as discontent with Wen's management style, have contributed to the departure of several senior officials since Wen replaced longtime PPFA leader Cecile Richards. A former health commissioner for Baltimore, Wen quickly was deemed to be a poor fit for the organization, the Times reports, and had been in negotiations with the board about her future for several weeks.
Former PPFA board chair and Planned Parenthood Action Fund board member Alexis McGill Johnson has been named acting president and CEO of PPFA and acting president of PPAF, effective immediately. PPFA will begin its search for a new president and CEO early next year, with a goal of having a new leader in place by the end of 2020.
(Photo credit: City Club of Cleveland)