(Reuters) – The leader of reproductive services provider Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its political arm said on Tuesday that she was leaving both organizations over philosophical differences in their approaches to abortion rights.
Dr. Leana Wen, the first physician in nearly 50 years to lead the federation and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said she took the job last September intending to advocate for a broad range of public health policies, not just abortion.
The federation’s board, however, decided to “double down” on making abortion rights a key priority as the group engages in legal and political battles after some states passed severe restrictions women’s ability to terminate pregnancies, Wen said.
“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,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Planned Parenthood has been a high-profile target for anti-abortion activists.
The Washington-based Planned Parenthood groups announced Wen’s departure, which takes effect immediately, without giving a reason for it and apparently catching her off guard.
“I just learned that the @PPFA Board ended my employment at a secret meeting,” she wrote on Twitter. “We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”
The groups said that Alexis McGill Johnson, a former board member for both, would take over for Wen as acting president and CEO of the federation and acting president of the action fund.”Alexis is a renowned social justice leader, lifelong political organizer, and a tireless advocate for reproductive rights and access to quality, affordable health care,” PPFA and PPAF said in a statement.
Johnson is the co-founder of the Perception Institute, a research group that works to reduce racial bias and other forms of discrimination.
The groups said they would launch their search for a permanent replacement for Wen early in 2020 with the aim of having a successor in place by the end of the year.
Planned Parenthood provides abortion, birth control, cancer screenings, disease testing and other health services to 2.4 million people at more than 600 centers in the United States, according to its most recent annual report.
Reporting by Peter Szekely and Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler