Here's Why Planned Parenthood's President, Leana Wen, Stepped Down

by Lilli Petersen
Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In a big shakeup for one of the most prominent reproductive health organizations in the United States, on Tuesday, July 16, Dr. Leana Wen announced in a tweet that she was stepping down from her role as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group's political advocacy branch. A statement released via Twitter cited "philosophical differences" as the reason why Wen was leaving Planned Parenthood, and reaffirmed her commitment to fighting for reproductive rights. Elite Daily reached out to representatives of Wen and Planned Parenthood for additional details but did not immediately hear back.

On the afternoon of July 16, the official Planned Parenthood Twitter account and Wen's personal account both tweeted out messages announcing her departure, with a statement from Wen saying that "philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood" were behind the move. The statement read in part,

I believe that 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 by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care it is. I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.

She finished by saying that it was an "honor and privilege" to work alongside the health care professional and volunteers who work with Planned Parenthood, and that she would "always stand with Planned Parenthood."

Wen, who took on the job in September 2018, was the first physician to be named to lead Planned Parenthood in more than 50 years, per The New York Times, and previously served as health commissioner of Baltimore, Maryland. During her tenure with Planned Parenthood, she was reported to have put an emphasis on Planned Parenthood's role as a health care organization, while leaning away from its role as a political advocacy group, according to Buzzfeed News' reporting.

In a letter to Planned Parenthood colleagues that Wen shared on Twitter on July 16, she appeared to address the question of focus within the organization. She wrote,

I believe that at this critical junction in our nation's history, there is an opportunity to make clear what we in medicine know to be true: that improving women's health is critical to the health, stability, and security of families and communities; that the attacks on reproductive rights are causing a public health crisis; and that the best way to protect abortion care is to contextualize it — to treat reproductive health care as the fundamental health care it is. ... The new Board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy. 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.

The status of reproductive rights has changed dramatically in the months since Wen took on leadership of Planned Parenthood. In recent months, several states have passed intensely restrictive abortion laws that would prove a de facto ban for people living in the state. So-called "heartbeat" bills, which would ban abortion as early as six weeks — before many people even know they're pregnant — have been popping up in states such as Georgia and Louisiana. Meanwhile, only a few weeks after Wen took on her role with Planned Parenthood, on Oct. 6, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a justice on the Supreme Court, despite fears that he would be hostile to abortion rights on the court. Representatives of Kavanaugh did not previously respond to Elite Daily's request for comment regarding whether he considered landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to abortion, "settled law."

Per a tweet from Planned Parenthood, Wen will be succeeded by Alexis McGill, who has been named acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of American and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, effective immediately. "Alexis is a renowned social justice leader and tireless advocate for reproductive rights and access to quality, affordable health care," the organization said in a tweet.

Despite the changes, it seems clear that Planned Parenthood will continue leading the way for reproductive rights — no matter who's in charge.