Deposed Planned Parenthood chief Leana Wen vowed in a memo before taking her post that she would treat abortion “as the fight of our time,” calling into question her claim that she was ousted as CEO last week for seeking to depoliticize Planned Parenthood’s signature issue.
“We are facing [the] real probability that 1/3 of women of reproductive age—25 million—could be living in states that ban or criminalize abortion,” Wen wrote in an October 2018 internal memo where she laid out her agenda. “[W]e need to fight with everything we have.”
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The memo was given to POLITICO by a former Planned Parenthood official.
Wen also laid out secondary priorities: Expanding access to health care and addressing health care inequality. Wen has said that Planned Parenthood’s leadership team signed off on her goal of shifting the organization toward a broader health care mission.
Nonetheless, Wen has portrayed her departure as driven by being insufficiently pro-abortion, which Wen reinforced in a New York Times op-ed posted on Friday.
“I believe abortion is about health care, not politics,” Wen wrote. “Many of my colleagues disagreed.”
Wen declined to comment to POLITICO. “Dr. Wen is not taking any media requests related to her departure from Planned Parenthood,” a spokesperson wrote. “Her NYT op-ed states her position.”
Wen’s claims have been picked up by conservative news outlets and circulated inside the Trump administration, with senior officials exploring how to use Wen’s criticism of Planned Parenthood in future talking points, said two individuals who have discussed administration media strategy. Some conservatives have called Wen a “whistleblower” for providing evidence of their long-held beliefs about Planned Parenthood.
“Wen tried to make Planned Parenthood what its always pretended to be: healthcare focused, a resource for all women, doing abortion politics on the side,” tweeted Matt Whitlock, a Republican policy adviser. “She didn’t get the memo it’s really the opposite: abortion politics with a tiny side of healthcare.”
A person close to Wen said that she was repeatedly pressured by Planned Parenthood leadership to stress that abortion was her top goal, such as after a BuzzFeed article in January that suggested Wen would “focus on nonabortion care.” Wen subsequently gave an interview to the Daily Beast reaffirming her commitment to abortion access, the individual said.
“This occurred over and over again,” the individual said, adding that staff and the board fought Wen’s efforts to highlight her non-abortion priorities, like videos touting her work on maternal health and opioids.
But Wen’s memo portrays a leader who internally stressed the urgency of abortion access, telling her leadership team that it was “important” that abortion would be her top priority.
“We are [in] a state of emergency for women,” Wen wrote, adding that the “worst-case scenario” was already underway, regardless of the 2018 midterm elections, as multiple states advanced abortion bans.
A half-dozen current and former Planned Parenthood staff told POLITICO that Wen’s departure was driven by internal criticism of her management. For instance, three officials said she pushed to tout services on Planned Parenthood’s website that the organization didn’t necessarily offer — which senior leadership worried would put the organization at risk of conservative attacks — and considered asking a personal friend to write the website content when she met internal resistance.
“We took this memo as her distillation of where she wanted to go,” a former senior official said. “Things went off the rails over her management, not the mission.”