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Planned Parenthood head Leana Wen is out of a job, effective immediately.
Wen, a doctor who previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s board had ousted her after what she called “a secret meeting.” She was hired to lead the national organization, a favorite target of Republicans, in September 2018, after the departure of its longtime leader Cecile Richards.
“I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood,” Wen said in an additional statement. “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.”
The move comes less than 24 hours after the Trump administration announced the enforcement of its long-proposed rule changes to Title X, the $286 million federal family planning program. Under the new rules, providers in the program can no longer refer patients for abortions. Planned Parenthood said the stipulation amounted to a “gag rule” on physicians and refused to comply with the changes.
Instead, Planned Parenthood is now relying on limited emergency funds.
Rumors have long swirled about Wen’s leadership and direction for Planned Parenthood, which became a political force to be reckoned with under Richards’ watch; several top officers left the organization after Wen’s appointment, which officially started in November. Throughout her tenure, and in her departing statement, Wen stressed that she considers Planned Parenthood’s primary mission to be health care.
“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,” she wrote.
But in an era where the topic of abortion is growing ever more divisive — thanks to President Donald Trump, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and a series of sweeping state restrictions on abortion — cutting the politics out of the procedure may not be possible. Over the last few months, Planned Parenthood has filed numerous lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions, including the recent near-total abortion ban in Alabama, which Wen called “the most extreme and dangerous policy” targeting abortion since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure nationwide in 1973. (That ban is not currently in effect.)
In a letter to her now-former colleagues, Wen confirmed that Planned Parenthood will now fully dive into politics. “The new Board leadership has determined the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy,” she wrote. “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 Board’s prioritization.”
Planned Parenthood Federation of America has named board member Alexis McGill Johnson acting president and CEO of the organization. McGill Johnson co-founded the Perception Institute, a consortium that translates “cutting-edge mind science research on identity difference into solutions,” according to her bio. In addition to serving on the boards of organizations like Color of Change, she helped develop Starbucks’ curriculum on racial bias.
“We thank Dr. Leana Wen for her service to Planned Parenthood in such a pivotal time and extend our best wishes for her continued success,” board chairs Aimee Cunningham and Jennie Rosenthal said in a statement. “Alexis is a renowned social justice leader, lifelong political organizer, and a tireless advocate for reproductive rights and access to quality, affordable health care.”
The organization will start looking for a new, permanent leader early next year.
Cover image: Leana Wen attends the 2019 Time 100 Gala, celebrating the 100 most influential people in the world, at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, April 23, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)