Dr. Leanna Wen’s ouster as PPFA President: What does it mean? Part One

By Dave Andrusko

Dr. Leana Wen By Hotchocolita via Wikimedia Commons

If you believe the accounts of reporters sympathetic to Planned Parenthood, PPFA had been angling for months to get rid of its new president. Those same accounts attribute Dr. Leanna Wen’s firing to an awful management style.

Of course Dr. Wen had a different account which she posted Tuesday after the New York Times broke the news that she had been canned, which we will get to in a moment. Note, by the way, Wen refused to quit. PPFA had to fire her after only 8 months in office.

Everything leading up to her ouster and since virtually screams out two things: First, “fall guy.” Second, Wen didn’t understand that PPFA’s only purpose in choosing a physician was the prestige associated with having a doctor at the top. Their monomaniacal obsession with abortion and abortion politics is, was, and always will be Job #1. That is why they loved its long-time president, Cecile Richards, a Democrat party hack who thrived in political combat.

Some accounts see this PR disaster as Chapter Two of a fight that breaks out periodically at the nation’s largest abortion “provider.” Mary Ziegler is a pro-abortion law professor and author who we’ve critiqued several times. But clearly, she has access.

Ziegler tweeted yesterday

PPFA did not see @drleanawen as an aggressive enough political leader. Reminded of PPFA leadership struggles of the 1990s when Pam Maraldo resigned over differences with the group over how much to emphasize abortion rights/repro health.


PPFA has had a history of struggles over identity–whether the group can prioritize a broader health care agenda without watering down its abortion-rights advocacy. Happened in the mid-1990s and now today.

Wen’s long tweet post combined a defense of her time as president, defiance, and a not-so-subtle dig at her ouster when came following a “secret meeting.”

“I came to Planned Parenthood to run a national healthcare organization and to advocate for the broad range of public health policies that affect our patients’ health. The new Board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy.”

Yahoo News put it this way:

In her statement, Wen wrote that she believed the best way to protect a woman’s right to an abortion was to frame it as a health care issue — not a political one. In doing this, Planned Parenthood could “expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans” who view abortion and other reproductive health care as “fundamental.”

You could see the writing on the wall (or at least I thought I could at the time) back in January. Dr. Wen gave an interview to BuzzFeed which ran under the headline, “Planned Parenthood’s New President Wants To Focus On Nonabortion Health Care.” Early one we read

Wen, 35, is only about two months into her tenure as the new head of Planned Parenthood, but she hit the ground running with this new campaign that sent the clear message: Planned Parenthood is first and foremost a health care organization, not a political symbol.

Talk about the kiss of death. Wen tried her best to recover by posting a tweet to the effect she’s been “misconstrued.” She began figuratively pledging her body, mind, and soul to abortion advocacy. But it was already too late.

Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon knows as much about Planned Parenthood as any outsider can. He is our director of Education & Research and will offer further details in a separate post.

My bottom line is simple. Planned Parenthood is on the defensive in a way we haven’t seen in decades. Nothing Wen could have done would have changed the Trump Administration’s rules which brought Title X to its original non-abortion purposes, or the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold them.

What could Wen have done to stem the ongoing passage of pro-life legislation? Nothing. What about the continued fallout from the secretly recorded interviews with prominent Planned Parenthood officials in which they giggled their way through discussions about trading in fetal body parts? Nothing except repeat the “heavily edited” mantra.

Wen is taking the fall for the hard times that have befallen Planned Parenthood. In all likelihood, after a bit, they will hire a Cecile Richards clone to do politics—which is, after all, far more than health care, what Planned Parenthood is all about.