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Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen removed from post following 'secret' board meeting

NBC News logo NBC News 7/16/2019 Safia Samee Ali
Leana Wen et al. standing in front of a crowd: Image: Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest outside of the Supreme Court on May 21, 2019. © James Lawler Duggan Image: Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest outside of the Supreme Court on May 21, 2019.

Planned Parenthood has removed its president, Dr. Leana Wen, less than one year after appointing her, the organization announced on Tuesday.

"We thank Dr. Leana Wen for her service to Planned Parenthood in such a pivotal time and extend our best wishes for her continued success," Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

Wen, who was the first physician to lead the organization, took over as president in November 2018 after longtime president Cecile Richards stepped down.

She tweeted that her ouster came after the organization's board held a "secret meeting" where they decided to remove her from her post.

"I leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood," she said in a statement. "I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a healthcare one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is."

But a source familiar with Dr. Wen's departure from Planned Parenthood told NBC News that her removal was due to management and leadership challenges, including mistrust between the existing staff and new hires Wen brought in.

The source added that there was also concern about Wen's lack of political chops. While she was hired due to her medical career, politics also are central when it comes to the organization's advocacy and opponents.

"It just wasn't a good fit, and Planned Parenthood's board decided to go in a different direction," the source says.

Planned Parenthood has replaced Wen with Alexis McGill Johnson, who will be stepping in as acting president immediately.

Johnson, who is the co-founder of the Perception Institute, has served as a Planned Parenthood board member for nearly a decade and acted as Planned Parenthood's Board Chair from 2013 to 2015.

"I am proud to step in to serve as Acting President and facilitate a smooth leadership transition in this critical moment for Planned Parenthood and the patients and communities we serve. I thank Dr. Wen for her service and her commitment to patients. 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," Johnson said in a statement.

The surprising departure comes amid a fraught time for abortion rights, which have faced a barrage of restrictive legislation over the past few months.

Wen maintained that she would "always stand with Planned Parenthood" despite her ouster.

Planned Parenthood said it will begin a search for a new president and CEO early next year, with "a goal of having a new president in place by the end of the year."

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