Planned Parenthood announced Tuesday afternoon that the group’s president is leaving her position after less than a year on the job, at a time when Republicans across the US are moving to restrict access to abortion.
The leadership shakeup comes as the reproductive rights organization leads multiple court fights against various state laws restricting abortion, including Alabama’s near-total abortion ban and six-week abortion bans in Georgia and Ohio.
Dr. Leana Wen had been picked as the new president of the influential reproductive health organization in September 2018, replacing longtime head Cecile Richards. In a tweet Tuesday, Wen alleged she had been ousted in a secretive meeting.
“I just learned that the @PPFA Board ended my employment at a secret meeting,” Wen said. “We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”
The non-profit organization’s board of directors said Wen was departing her role effective immediately and that former Planned Parenthood board chair Alexis McGill Johnson had been named acting president.
“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,” said Aimee Cunningham and Jennie Rosenthal, the chairs of the organization’s board of directors, in a statement.
Wen, a former Baltimore City Health Commissioner, hinted in a longer statement that differing views on how best to portray abortion to the public were a factor in her departure.
“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 healthcare as the fundamental healthcare that it is,” she wrote.
Planned Parenthood will begin looking for a new president and CEO early next year in hopes with the goal of having a permanent replacement by the end of the year, the group said.
Wen departs as new Title X take effect, HHS says
Wen’s departure coincides with the Department of Health and Human Services telling Title X recipients that the new regulations prohibiting taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from discussing abortion with patients or offering abortion referrals are now in effect, despite several challenges to the proposed rules from abortion rights supporters currently working their way through the courts.
Planned Parenthood tweeted that the rule was “not something that (the group is) going to participate in.”
Calling the rule “devastating, illegal, & unethical,” the group argued that it “puts birth control and other essential care at risk for millions.”
HHS’ Office of Population Affairs sent Title X recipients a notification of the change on Monday evening, referencing the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals’ en banc ruling last week upholding previous appeals court decisions to override district courts temporarily blocking the new rule.
“By denying those motions, the en banc Ninth Circuit … has made clear that HHS may begin enforcing the Final Rule,” the notification, provided to CNN, stated. “Consistent with those rulings, HHS shall now require compliance with the Final Rule.”
The Title X program serves about 4 million people a year, according to HHS. Critics say the regulations would mostly affect communities of color, low-income people, the uninsured and rural residents.
At least one state’s Planned Parenthood office is opting not to accept Title X funds over the new rules. Planned Parenthood of Illinois “will not be participating” in Title X funding, spokeswoman Julie Lynn told CNN, arguing that accepting the funding and complying with the rule “is a violation of medical ethics.” PPIL received $3.5 million in Title X funding during the previous cycle, she added.
Mia Heck, director of external affairs at HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, told CNN that “direction will be provided to (Title X participants) during the grantee conference this week.”
“The Office of Population Affairs is committed to working with grantees to assist them in coming into compliance with the requirements of the new final rule,” she said.