Less than one year after coming onboard as president, Dr. Leana Wen has been asked to leave Planned Parenthood Federation of America as the organization fights the ongoing legislative battle against abortion rights.
Tuesday (July 16), The Associated Press was the first to report that Wen, who began at the health care organization in November, had been dismissed. She was the first physician to head Planned Parenthood in more than 50 years. Prior to this position, she was commissioner of health for Baltimore, where she headed the Baltimore City Health Department in the majority-Black city. Under Wen’s direction, the B’More for Healthy Babies program contributed to a nearly 40 percent reduction in infant mortality over the course of seven years. Additionally, the Baltimore City Health Department and the City of Baltimore sued the Trump administration for cutting funds for teen pregnancy prevention.
The urgency of the abortion issue appeared to be at the heart of the disagreement. Dr. Wen, the first physician to lead the organization in decades, said that she believed “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.”
But four people familiar with the matter said the group’s board of directors felt it needed a more aggressive political leader to combat the current efforts to roll back access to abortions.
In the months since Wen joined Planned Parenthood, the nation has experienced a number of legislative setbacks in the fight for abortion access. Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia and Mississippi all passed bills prohibiting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy this year. Missouri passed an eight-week ban, and in Alabama abortion is illegal from the moment of conception. Lawmakers in these states welcome their laws landing before the Supreme Court of the United States as a direct challenge to Roe V. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that made abortion legal nationwide.
On Monday (July 15), the Trump administration announced it would begin enforcement of its Title X rule. The regulation—which reproductive rights advocates call a domestic “gag rule”—changes the requirements health care providers must meet to receive federal money via Title X, the federal family planning program established in 1970. Health care providers can discuss abortion with patients, but are now barred from saying where one can be obtained. Clinics will also be able to omit abortion from conversations with pregnant women who are weighing their options, whereas previously, a clinic could not receive federal funding unless all options were discussed.
An article published Tuesday by Buzzfeed says the organization and Wen had opposing philosophies beyond how to position Planned Parenthood in the abortion battle. Reports the site:
When Wen first came on she had no interest in “the long-term future of abortion access work that had already been going on, saying there was no budget for it,” the source said, adding that they witnessed staff crying in meetings with her, feeling as if their decades-long expertise was being ignored.
Two sources told BuzzFeed News that Wen also refused to use “trans-inclusive” language, for example saying “people” instead of “women” and telling staff that she believed talking about transgender issues would “isolate people in the Midwest.” For a period of a few months, Wen sometimes went through Planned Parenthood’s press releases and documents, deleting the word “sexual” from the phrase “sexual and reproductive health,” the source said. She also resisted using the word “abortion” as a stand-alone term, preferring “abortion care” or other phrases entirely.
Until the board votes in a new president, Alexis McGill Johnson, the co-founder of anti-bias research group Perception Institute and former board member and chair of the Planned Parenthood Federal PAC, will serve as acting president.