Former Planned Parenthood Head Leana Wen: 'My Colleagues Disagreed' That Abortion was Not about Politics

Dr. Leana Wen, the former president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood, claimed this week that her ouster from the women's reproductive health non-profit came about because of her desire to depoliticize abortion access.

In an opinion column published Friday in The New York Times, Wen wrote that she faced "daily internal opposition" for her desire to recast Planned Parenthood in the popular consciousness as a mainstream healthcare organization rather than a singularly focused, pro-abortion advocacy group.

"To counter those who associate the organization with only abortion and use this misconception to attack its mission, I wanted to tell the story of all of its services — and in so doing, to normalize abortion care as the health care it is," Wen wrote. "There was even more criticism as we worked to change the perception that Planned Parenthood was just a progressive political entity and show that it was first and foremost a mainstream health care organization."

Wen was removed from her post on Tuesday after less than a year on the job. She was the first medical doctor to helm the organization in decades, and only the second in its entire history. The previous president, Cecile Richards, daughter of the wisecracking former Texas governor Ann Richards, departed Planned Parenthood in April 2018 after more than a decade as its leader.

Wen, who was previously Baltimore's public health commissioner, wrote on Tuesday that she learned Planned Parenthood's board had terminated her employment as the result of a "secret meeting."

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's announcement, the board and Wen had reportedly been engaged in a conversation about her future at the organization due to disagreements about her management style and philosophical differences over the group's direction in an increasingly politicized abortion landscape.

A handful of southern states in the past few months alone have passed severe new restrictions on abortion access, with one law appearing to effectively outlaw the procedure in its entirety at nearly every stage of pregnancy.

The Trump administration has recently announced it would begin enforcement of a so-called "gag rule" to limit Title X funding of family planning clinics if healthcare providers refer patients to abortion services.

In her column, Wen acknowledged that she understood pushing the group to change its typically hardline political positions "would be challenging," and she said that she was criticized over perceptions that she "did not prioritize abortion enough."

Wen, however, understood her mission differently, explaining that she did not want to de-prioritize abortion as much as she wanted to re-emphasize "a wide range of policies" that Planned Parenthood supports. Without a singular focus on abortion, which she viewed as a political target, Wen wrote that the group could "expand support" for women's healthcare among the general public, which would have the incidental effect of consolidating abortion support.

Her efforts to reframe Planned Parenthood's mandate were evidently incompatible with what the board saw as its mission to anchor the political debate amid hard times for abortion access, and so the group's directors ultimately moved to terminate Wen's post.

Despite the recent rollbacks of abortion rights in certain states, public support for abortion has reached its highest point in decades. 60 percent of Americans now believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the greatest amount of support the procedure has garnered in nearly a quarter-century.

The Wall Street Journal's Future Of Everything Festival
Leana Wen, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood speaks during The Wall Street Journal's Future Of Everything Festival at Spring Studios on May 20, 2019 in New York City. Nicholas Hunt/Getty