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Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen Removed From Position After Less Than A Year


Planned Parenthood today announced that its president and CEO, Dr. Leana Wen, is out. In a tweet, Wen says the group's board ended her employment at a, quote, "secret meeting" that came after, quote, "philosophical differences" emerged between herself and the organization. NPR's Sarah McCammon covers Planned Parenthood and joins us now.



SHAPIRO: Wen had been in this job for less than a year. What can you tell us about her departure?

MCCAMMON: Well, she's leaving, you know, at a really critical time for the organization, at a time when abortion rights advocates are concerned about a lot of threats to reproductive rights both at the state level and from the Trump administration. And you're right. She had just been hired in September 2018 to replace Cecile Richards, who'd been at the helm for years. Prior to that, Wen had been Baltimore's public health commissioner. And you know, I've heard rumbles - there have been reports of problems inside of Planned Parenthood for months now.

We just heard from both Planned Parenthood and Dr. Wen herself. Planned Parenthood's statement was fairly terse, thanked Wen for her service, offered best wishes to her without really saying much about why she was forced out. Wen put out a tweet saying she'd been let go after a secret meeting despite, she said, having been engaged in good-faith negotiations about her departure which she says were based on philosophical differences, as you say.

That's what we know officially, but, Ari, we also know it has been a really turbulent time for abortion rights advocates and a stressful time for Planned Parenthood.

SHAPIRO: Any idea what those philosophical differences that Wen tweeted about were?

MCCAMMON: Well, her statement might give us a few clues. She says, I believe the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it's 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. She talks about finding common ground. But this of course comes at a time when both sides are kind of pushing on this issue, when some states, red states are trying to restrict abortion even in the first trimester, blue states trying to expand or protect access. Remember, too, that Cecile Richards, who she replaced, had been a very out-front, high-profile, vocal advocate for abortion rights and was very comfortable as the public spokesperson for that issue.

SHAPIRO: Have you been able to get a sense just from talking with people at Planned Parenthood about how Leana Wen was regarded as a leader?

MCCAMMON: Well, both from the reporting I've seen and from some current and former employees I've talked to at Planned Parenthood, I know that there were a lot of concerns about her leadership style, about her ability to lead the organization at this critical time when Planned Parenthood is facing attacks at the federal and state level and concerns about her ability to execute on the advocacy that leaders there see as so important right now.

I've also heard some skepticism that this was about philosophical differences. One person I spoke to said that it was really down to her leadership style and concerns about her competence, that a lot of people there saw her as significantly out of her depth. I do know that there have been multiple high-level departures since Dr. Wen came in. Now, we don't know that they were all because of her. In fact, I've heard they probably weren't. But it doesn't look good for a new leader at a critical moment like this.

SHAPIRO: So as you've been covering month after month, states across the country are passing laws limiting abortion. States are trying to close down Planned Parenthood clinics. What does this mean for where the organization goes from here?

MCCAMMON: Right - that, and also the Trump administration just this week said it would begin enforcing a regulation that basically restricts what organizations can get federal family planning dollars under the Title X program. That's seen as a major blow to Planned Parenthood. So as you say, there are many challenges for abortion rights advocates.

Stepping in now is Alexis McGill Johnson - longtime Planned Parenthood board member. Planned Parenthood says they'll start looking for a new permanent leader early next year. Whoever steps in and McGill Johnson for now are going to have a lot to deal with both, you know, in fighting for those reproductive rights battles at the state level and gearing up, of course, for 2020.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon with breaking news that Dr. Leana Wen is no longer president and CEO of Planned Parenthood.

Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.