Dr. Leana Wen and the Politicization of Planned Parenthood


  • Emma Schreier


On July 16, 2019, Planned Parenthood fired its president of less than one year, Leana Wen. Planned Parenthood, both a political advocacy organization and the nation’s largest provider of reproductive health care, hired Wen in the fall of 2018 to replace Cecile Richards. As the president for more than ten years, Richards is credited with bringing Planned Parenthood onto the national political stage. Wen’s background as an emergency physician and the health commissioner of Baltimore contrasted with Richard’s career as a political organizer. From the start of her presidency, Wen emphasized her public health background and announced her plan to “depoliticize Planned Parenthood.” By focusing on Planned Parenthood’s role as a healthcare provider, Wen hoped to avoid attacks from anti-abortion critics and eventually reframe abortion as a health care procedure. Soon after Wen began the job, however, news outlets began reporting Planned Parenthood staffers’ dissatisfaction with Wen’s leadership. As key employees left, outsiders began to wonder if Wen’s leadership was flawed or if the organization was resisting her efforts to adopt a public health approach. This case explores why Wen was fired and the politics of Planned Parenthood and abortion in America. Given the history and current climate surrounding abortion, is it possible to de-politicize Planned Parenthood? Was Wen’s approach doomed from the start, or did her leadership skills lead to her termination?  While women, especially Asian women, face extra scrutiny for strict leadership styles, Wen’s vision for Planned Parenthood demonstrated a disconnect from the organization’s employees and the political realities of being an abortion provider in the United States.


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