Leana Wen's Brief, Tumultuous Tenure at Planned Parenthood

Leana Wen's Brief, Tumultuous Tenure at Planned Parenthood
Image:Associated Press

More details are emerging that shed light on why the Planned Parenthood Federation of American and its political action fund pushed out Dr. Leana Wen less than a year into her tenure as president, and the picture the allegations paint is not a pretty one. According to a report by BuzzFeed News, Wen’s brief time at Planned Parenthood was marked by the departure of a number of high-level political staffers, alarm over her reportedly more conservative views on how to protect and expand abortion access, complaints about her management style, and a “significant decline” in fundraising.

In a statement Wen released on Tuesday, she wrote that she and the board chairs had “philosophical differences over the direction and future” of Planned Parenthood.

She continued:

I came to Planned Parenthood to run a national health care organization. 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.

In a previous statement, Wen had written that the best way to “protect abortion care” is to emphasize that it is not a “political issue but a healthcare one.” She went on to write that the organization could build “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.”

Yet in a time when abortion rights and access are under increasing attack in Republican-dominated states, Wen’s stance on abortion—and the work needed to be done to fight for abortion access—was at odds with that of many of the long-standing political staffers. One source told BuzzFeed News that when Wen started, she was not interested in “the long-term future of abortion access work that had already been going on, saying there was no budget for it.”

Wen’s more conservative framing of abortion access and sexual and reproductive health also alarmed some people at Planned Parenthood.

From BuzzFeed News:

Two sources told BuzzFeed News that Wen also refused to use “trans-inclusive” language, for example saying “people” instead of “women” and telling staff that she believed talking about transgender issues would “isolate people in the Midwest.” For a period of a few months, Wen sometimes went through Planned Parenthood’s press releases and documents, deleting the word “sexual” from the phrase “sexual and reproductive health,” the source said. She also resisted using the word “abortion” as a stand-alone term, preferring “abortion care” or other phrases entirely.

Sources also cited “significant management issues” as a reason for Wen’s ouster:

During the beginning of Wen’s tenure at Planned Parenthood, the staff she brought with her distributed a 182-page handbook on rules and tips for staffing Wen. The “Special Assistant Guide” from the Baltimore City Health Department, according to a copy obtained by BuzzFeed News, details guidelines on timeliness (“Nothing can fall through the cracks”), office demeanor (“Make sure to frequently look up [from Twitter] and make eye contact with Dr. Wen to see if she is trying to communicate urgent information”), language use (“Dr. Wen ‘learns’ not ‘hears’”). and correspondence (“Try not to look at emails more than once. Take care of it then”).

According to two sources who spoke with BuzzFeed News, Wen had been in talks with the board for “about six months” and given “specific directive for improvement” but the process clearly broke down.

“Shit has been crazy,” according to one source.

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