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Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, removed as Planned Parenthood CEO

Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, removed as Planned Parenthood CEO
Dr. Leana Wen, health commissioner for the Baltimore City Health Department, talks about the effectiveness of contraception for public school students in a file image from 2015. Wen will be the new head of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (Kim Hairston / TNS)

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s former health commissioner, was removed Tuesday as the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood. She said she has “philosophical differences” with its board of directors and its decision to “double down on abortion rights advocacy.”

Wen had left her Baltimore post in October to become Planned Parenthood’s sixth president. In a Twitter statement, she said the organization’s board of directors “ended my employment at a secret meeting.”

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“I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood,” Wen wrote.

In her place, the board announced that Alexis McGill, a board member who previously served as its acting chair from 2013 to 2015, will function as acting CEO while the organization searches for Wen’s replacement.

A spokesperson for the organization did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday about Wen’s allegations of a secret meeting, instead forwarding an email of the organization’s already public statements.

In a statement, McGill said she would “facilitate a smooth leadership transition in this critical moment for Planned Parenthood.”

McGill’s statement highlights what Wen said is at the heart of her differences with the board.

“I look forward to getting to work alongside the incredible team at Planned Parenthood who work every single day to help people access high quality reproductive health care,” she wrote.

In her Twitter statement, Wen wrote that she joined the organization “to run a national health care organization and to advocate for the broad range of public health policies that affect our patients’ health.” She cited a wide range of issues, including housing, food insecurity and other social factors.

“The new Board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy,” Wen wrote. “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.”

The organization said in a statement that a search for Wen’s permanent replacement will begin early next year, with a goal to have a new CEO in place by the end of 2020.

Wen had been Baltimore’s health commissioner for nearly four years before taking on the role with the national group.

She became known as an outspoken health commissioner during her time in Baltimore, regularly appearing on TV and writing op-eds on a variety of issues.

She also became a leading voice criticizing the Trump administration for weakening public safety nets with cuts to public health and other social service programs, as well as speaking against what she’s called rollbacks to reproductive rights.

Her desire to advocate on a broad range of issues also mirrors her time as Baltimore’s health commissioner, as she started programs to provide glasses to school children and helped pushed the city’s infant mortality rate to record lows.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said she doesn’t expect her ouster to affect her standing in the medical community.

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"She went in with a great reputation and will come out with a great reputation,” said Sharfstein, who helped recruit Wen to her position as Baltimore’s health commissioner.

“She was very driven to see Planned Parenthood become more of a health care organization at this moment in time when the organization is very much focused on the battle over abortion rights,” he added. “Obviously it wasn’t possible for those things to coexist at this moment.”

Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion rights group that opposes Planned Parenthood, said if Wen “has had a change of heart about the morality of killing thousands of babies each day, we will welcome her to our cause.”

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland. wrote in a statement that Wen “made significant progress during her tenure as president of Planned Parenthood and I am certain that she will continue to be a tireless public health advocate in her next role.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

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