Planned Parenthood Staffers: Wen Fired Over ‘Lack of Leadership’

'S⁠—t has been crazy, there was a whole system of insanity'

After Planned Parenthood fired Leana Wen on Tuesday, sources told BuzzFeed News Wen had been in negotiations with the board over her departure for weeks because of poor relationships with staff and "a complete lack of leadership capability."

The abortion provider's former president took to Twitter to air her grievances after Tuesday's announcement, saying the decision had been made without her knowledge at a "secret meeting."

Wen claimed the organization had split with her due to "philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood."

"I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care 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," Wen said in a statement defending her tenure, which lasted only eight months.

But according to staffers within Planned Parenthood, Wen's departure was not just about a philosophical disagreement over how to market abortion. She had been in negotiations with the board over her departure for weeks and had been offered the opportunity to resign, but refused to do so, two sources told BuzzFeed News.

In the months leading up to her firing, the organization had hired a coach to help Wen improve her relationships with staff, the sources said. Wen had been hired in 2018 to replace longtime leader Cecile Richards, the woman responsible for making Planned Parenthood a political powerhouse. Wen, a former physician, caused an internal shakeup from the start by insisting that Planned Parenthood emphasize the "healthcare" aspects of abortion.

Wen "demonstrated a complete lack of leadership capability at a time when this organization requires an extraordinary leader," a former senior staffer at Planned Parenthood told BuzzFeed. "These are the times when people have to look out for what is best for the organization, and this was the best thing for the organization."

When Wen ran into pushback, she hired "people in very senior leadership roles who knew nothing about Planned Parenthood," the source added. This attitude prompted the board to warn Wen two months into her presidency to improve her leadership. She ignored the directive, and top staffers began leaving in droves. Fundraising numbers began to nosedive.

At the same, Wen attempted to fortify her power by issuing a 182-page handbook that instructed employees how to behave around her. A copy provided to BuzzFeed details specific instructions such as "Make sure to frequently look up [from Twitter] and make eye contact with Dr. Wen to see if she is trying to communicate urgent information," semantic quirks like "Dr. Wen ‘learns' not ‘hears,'" and email etiquette, "Try not to look at emails more than once. Take care of it then."

"The handbook was honestly just the beginning of her management issues," the source said. "S⁠—t has been crazy, there was a whole system of insanity: a deep mistrust of staff, giving directives that made no sense, saying things that were factually inaccurate, saying one thing then saying something else completely, micromanaging control over what people were allowed to say and not say."

Wen would ignore people in meetings, often reducing them to tears, the source said. She also refused to use "trans-inclusive" language, saying that she believed it would "isolate people in the Midwest." She also attempted to expunge any references to "sexual" matters from Planned Parenthood press releases, replacing it with the phrase "sexual and reproductive health." She treated the word "abortion" similarly, using the term "abortion care" or avoiding the word altogether.

Wen's ouster comes as the pro-abortion movement faces a series of state-level losses, with pro-life legislation passing in Ohio, Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana and Missouri.