A Messy Exit Leaves Planned Parenthood at a Philosophical Crossroads
WASHINGTON — Leana Wen had already made a reputation for herself as Baltimore’s well being commissioner when Planned Parenthood employed her as its new president final fall.
Dr. Wen, a 36-year-old doctor, had used revolutionary insurance policies to fight the opioid epidemic and delivered a broadly watched TED Talk. She repeatedly appeared on lists of probably the most influential well being care leaders and authorities officers.
But Dr. Wen’s tenure at Planned Parenthood was rocky and quick, ending after eight months on Tuesday when the board of administrators ousted her following a number of weeks of tense and typically acrimonious negotiations.
Current and former Planned Parenthood officers describe Dr. Wen as a sensible however alienating supervisor who wished to considerably reorient the group’s focus away from the abortion wars and extra towards its position as a girls’s well being supplier.
Early in her tenure, as an example, Dr. Wen directed her employees so as to add new pages to the Planned Parenthood web site about subjects like bronchial asthma and the widespread chilly — circumstances that its clinics don’t sometimes deal with. One of her first main campaigns was merely referred to as “This is health care.”
But as states started to cross ever extra restrictive legal guidelines on abortion, and with the addition of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court — endangering Roe v. Wade — Planned Parenthood’s leaders felt they wanted a extra politically invested advocate within the battle over abortion entry, based on individuals accustomed to the matter.
The inside turmoil underscores one of many group’s central tensions: Is it a political group or a well being group first? And can or not it’s each at a time when abortion has been elevated to a distinguished and incendiary situation within the 2020 presidential election — and the place a center floor has all however disappeared?
“Planned Parenthood occupies a unique position as both a health care provider and an advocate, which nobody else needs to do,” mentioned Jess McIntosh, a Democratic strategist who has consulted with reproductive rights teams together with Naral and Emily’s List. “Because they have such an outsized share of market attention, they don’t have the luxury of letting go of the advocacy piece.”
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Interviews with practically a dozen present and former staff and officers — who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate inside issues — portrayed Dr. Wen as a pacesetter seen by many as a poor supervisor, maybe unprepared to steer a nationwide group with greater than 600 well being facilities. Some staff chafed at a handbook for particular assistants that circulated after she arrived, which featured one high bullet level studying, “All emails from Dr. Wen sent the night before should be answered immediately before anything else is done.”
Dr. Wen’s departure throws Planned Parenthood, the nation’s main girls’s well being group, right into a state of uncertainty. Some of Planned Parenthood’s most senior and skilled political palms had departed throughout Dr. Wen’s transient tenure, and on Tuesday 5 of her high lieutenants whom she had introduced in had been fired. There had been fears of lawsuits to return.
Through an affiliate, Dr. Wen has declined to be interviewed. In an announcement Tuesday, she mentioned she was leaving due to philosophical variations and hinted at her choice for viewing the group by means of the prism of public well being.
“The best way to protect abortion,” she wrote, “is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one.”
Many strategists who work with abortion rights activists consider Planned Parenthood was caught off guard and ailing ready to cope with the current assaults from President Trump and Republicans, who unfold misinformation about Democratic-led efforts in states like New York to increase abortion entry later in being pregnant. Instead of aggressively refuting the claims that Democrats had been legalizing “infanticide,” Planned Parenthood and different abortion rights teams had been gradual to type a cohesive and efficient response.
Planned Parenthood’s internal turmoil additionally distracted from these efforts on the time, individuals near the group mentioned.
In an interview with The New York Times in May, Dr. Wen acknowledged that the slowness to reply harm their trigger. “Sometimes there is a temptation to let the absurdity stand on its own, but we have to recognize that this is a different time,” she mentioned.
[Here’s how limits on abortion have changed across the states this year.]
According to individuals who labored along with her, Dr. Wen pushed for modifications that some staff felt weren’t in sync with the sensibilities of a progressive group like Planned Parenthood. One present worker mentioned individuals chafed at having years of labor on “the future of abortion access” abruptly changed with totally different priorities.
Dr. Wen’s public feedback additionally precipitated some frustration internally, the present and former officers mentioned. In late May, the Washington Post Fact Checker column wrote an article about her repeated declare that “thousands of women died every year pre-Roe” from an absence of authorized abortion care. The column rated her assertion as “false,” one thing a former worker mentioned she had been advised repeatedly by her employees however disregarded.
Other, newer staff, nonetheless, described a constructive working relationship with Dr. Wen. One recalled a standing ovation she obtained when she spoke on the group’s nationwide assembly within the spring. These staff, who additionally spoke anonymously to debate inside issues, felt that the group’s management was immune to Dr. Wen’s imaginative and prescient for offering further providers akin to psychological well being and substance abuse sources, seeing this kind of remedy as “mission creep.”
Other staff had been involved when Dr. Wen requested that the Planned Parenthood web site be up to date to incorporate new sections on persistent well being circumstances like diabetes, bronchial asthma and the widespread chilly.
Planned Parenthood allies had already come beneath assault in 2015 for suggesting that the group supplies mammogram screenings, which it doesn’t (the group refers individuals to different suppliers for the service). Staff members frightened that Dr. Wen’s request might result in an identical controversy.
One electronic mail from a Planned Parenthood worker, seen by The New York Times, warned that the brand new pages could be “risky for the brand” as a result of it usually “gets dinged in the press when we suggest that we provide services we don’t.”
The new pages had been posted regardless of these objections, and a few stay stay on the Planned Parenthood web site right now.
The handbook that was distributed to some staff — a 177-page guide titled the “Special Assistant Guide,” created when Dr. Wen served as Baltimore’s well being commissioner — additionally generated skepticism. The guide, first reported by Buzzfeed, consists of directions about the way to act when she delivered public remarks — “Make sure to frequently look up (from Twitter)” — and the way to deal with their inboxes, noting, “Try not to look at emails more than once.”
The strategy of changing Dr. Wen started in late June, when the chairs of Planned Parenthood’s two boards requested her to resign, based on individuals accustomed to the matter.
The request set off intense negotiations involving attorneys on either side over the phrases of her departure. Her exit was assured; the one query was whether or not it could be achieved peacefully and quietly, or loudly and acrimoniously.
But at about the identical time, Dr. Wen was going through down a way more private problem: She had suffered a miscarriage. She wrote in regards to the expertise in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
“Just as suddenly as they’d come on, my nausea, exhaustion and other symptoms went away,” Dr. Wen wrote in a searing essay. “I knew even before I went to my doctor that I’d had a pregnancy loss.”
The op-ed revealed on July 6 — after she had been requested to resign — stunning and irritating senior officers and board members, who had not been knowledgeable of the article upfront.
On July 10, the board issued a discover for an emergency assembly on July 16 at which era Dr. Wen could be terminated. The board didn’t inform her of the assembly, based on an individual near her, although she came upon quickly afterward.
On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously for her alternative, the board member Alexis McGill Johnson. Lawyers continued to barter Dr. Wen’s departure, however talks collapsed within the later afternoon. After the information broke, Dr. Wen accused Planned Parenthood of engineering her ouster in a “secret” assembly.
“The new board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy,” Dr. Wen wrote to the employees in a departure memo.
Early Wednesday night, Ms. McGill Johnson put up a prolonged Facebook submit in regards to the group’s subsequent steps.
“Our work and our mission isn’t about one person or even one organization,” she wrote. “Our work is about the millions of people who need access to affordable and comprehensive health care.”