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Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen removed from post following 'secret' board meeting

"We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood," Wen said in a tweet.
Image: Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest outside of the Supreme Court on May 21, 2019.
Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest outside of the Supreme Court on May 21, 2019.James Lawler Duggan / Reuters file

Planned Parenthood has removed its president, Dr. Leana Wen, less than one year after appointing her, the organization announced Tuesday.

“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," the organization said in a statement.

Wen, who was the first physician to lead Planned Parenthood, took over in November 2018 after longtime president Cecile Richards stepped down.

She tweeted that her ouster came after the organization's board held a "secret meeting" in which they decided to remove her from her post.

"I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood," she 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 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 that it is."

But a source familiar with Wen’s departure told NBC News that her removal was due to management and leadership challenges, including mistrust between the existing staff and the new hires she had brought in.

The source added that there was also concern about Wen’s lack of political chops. While she was hired due to her medical career, politics also is central when it comes to the organization’s advocacy and opponents.

People inside the organization did not agree with her statement that pits abortion as a political issue versus a health care issue. They believe it's both, the source said.

"It just wasn’t a good fit, and Planned Parenthood’s board decided to go in a different direction," the source said.

In a letter to colleagues posted on Twitter, Wen reaffirmed her stance on Planned Parenthood's focus saying that "providing essential primary and preventative care to millions of underserved women and families should always be the driving force of Planned Parenthood's work." She adds that this comes at odds with what she believes is the Board's new priority to "double down on abortion rights advocacy."

Planned Parenthood has replaced Wen with Alexis McGill Johnson, who will be stepping in as acting president immediately.

Johnson, who is the co-founder of the Perception Institute, has served as a Planned Parenthood board member for almost a decade and acted as its board chair from 2013 to 2015.

“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. 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 health care," Johnson said in a statement.

Wen's surprising departure comes amid a fraught time for abortion rights, which have faced a barrage of restrictive legislation over the past few months.

Wen maintained that she would "always stand with Planned Parenthood" despite her ouster.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, offered support to Wen, who was the Baltimore City Health Commissioner from 2014 to 2018, on Twitter immediately after the announcement saying, "Dr. Wen has made significant progress during her tenure as president of Planned Parenthood and I am certain that she will continue to be a tireless public health advocate in her next role."

The organization said it will begin a search for a new president and CEO early next year, with "a goal of having a new president in place by the end of the year."