Planned Parenthood removed its president Dr. Leana Wen on Tuesday, less than a year after she assumed leadership of the organization. Wen, who replaced longtime president Cecile Richards in September 2018, was the first physician to helm the group in 50 years.
Wen said that she had already been in talks about departing the organization. "I just learned that the @PPFA Board ended my employment at a secret meeting," she tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. "We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood."
Shortly after, Wen released a statement in which she said she had disagreements with the new board chairs. "I believe the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a healthcare one," she said, "and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive healthcare as the fundamental healthcare that it is."
Unlike her predecessor Richards, a longtime women's rights activist who hails from one of Texas’ most prominent political families, Wen is a physician first and foremost. But she has also said she sees advocacy as a natural extension of her work. “In providing healthcare and treating my patients, I see that what's making them sick isn't just a disease,” she told Refinery29 last year. “I'm treating a patient who's had a stroke and the reason she had a stroke is that she was cutting her blood pressure medications into halves and then into quarters because she couldn't afford them. My job is not only to treat her medical illness she's here with, but to also fight back on these policies that are making her sick.”
It doesn't seem like that approach worked within Planned Parenthood, however. The New York Times reported the organization wants a more aggressive political leader who is able to fight the wave of extreme anti-abortion policies that lawmakers are pushing at the state and federal levels. The explicit goal of most of these measures has been overturning or undermining Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
At a meeting Tuesday, the Planned Parenthood board voted unanimously to appoint Alexis McGill Johnson as acting CEO and president of both Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nonprofit offering healthcare services, and the group's political arm, Planned Parenthood Action Fund. (It's unclear whether this is the secret meeting that Wen was referring to.)
"I am proud to step in to serve as Acting President and facilitate a smooth leadership transition in this critical moment for Planned Parenthood and the patients and communities we serve. I thank Dr. Wen for her service and her commitment to patients," McGill Johnson said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "I look forward to getting to work alongside the incredible team at Planned Parenthood who work every single day to help people access high-quality reproductive healthcare."
Refinery29 reached out to Dr. Leana Wen and Planned Parenthood for additional comment. We'll update this story when we hear back.