If her first interview is any indication, the new leader of Planned Parenthood is doubling down on abortion as “one of our core services.”
On July 16, Alexis McGill Johnson became the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Action. The move came after her predecessor, Leana Wen, claimed she was fired for not prioritizing abortion enough while at the helm of the nation’s largest abortion provider.
While Wen served for a short eight months, McGill Johnson may head Planned Parenthood for more than a year. In one press statement, Planned Parenthood revealed that its search for a more permanent leader wouldn’t begin until 2020, “with a goal of having a new president in place by the end of the year.”
Here are ten things Americans should know about McGill Johnson.
1. She Prioritizes Abortion
On July 30, McGill Johnson focused on abortion in her first interview since filling the role of Planned Parenthood’s acting president. From the beginning, CBS reporter Kate Smith wanted to know, “Is there a scenario where you would discontinue abortion services in order to make everything else that you do easier?”
“Absolutely not,” McGill Johnson responded without hesitation. “I was on board when we voted to ensure that abortion was one of our core services that every center affiliated with Planned Parenthood would provide.”
Abortion, she insisted, is “a critical part of access to full, reproductive, and sexual health care.”
“There’s no scenario where we would actively decide on our own to not provide it,” she continued, before affirming that federal tax dollars should fund abortion and that every state – regardless of its constituents’ position – must provide abortion access.
When asked about citizens who find abortion morally wrong, McGill Johnson responded that a majority support Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the U.S.
“I think the question is really about whether or not the government should be involved in these decisions, or if a woman has a right to make these decisions with her god and her doctor,” she responded.
“We are very concerned about Roe, obviously,” she added, with the new makeup of the Supreme Court. “What’s at stake is our ability, our access to control our own lives through our reproductive choices.”
2. She’s Familiar with Planned Parenthood
Following the announcement of her new position, McGill Johnson stressed in an open letter that she has “been part of the Planned Parenthood family for nearly a decade” both as a volunteer board member and as board chair.
According to her Planned Parenthood biography, she served as a Planned Parenthood Action Fund board member and PAC Chair before becoming acting president.
McGill Johnson was on “the Board of Directors for Planned Parenthood Federation of America for nearly a decade, including serving as Board Chair from 2013 to 2015,” the site reads.
3. She’s a Fan of Senator Kamala Harris
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McGill Johnson gave $2,800 to Harris (D-CA) in February. It’s her only donation listed to a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate – and the only donation listed for the year 2019.
4. She’s a Media Favorite
In addition to her recent CBS interview, McGill Johnson’s Planned Parenthood biography says that she serves as a “frequent commentator on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and in the press.”
McGill Johnson also published an op-ed in the Washington Post on July 24, where she urged that her organization isn’t political. “The sexual and reproductive health care our organization provides is not ‘political’; it has been politicized — and not by us,” she argued.
5. She’s Educated in Politics
According to her Perception Institute biography, McGill Johnson graduated from Princeton in 1993 and from Yale in 1995 after studying political science. She later taught political science and African American studies at Yale and Wesleyan Universities.
6. She’s a Founder of Multiple Organizations
McGill Johnson is the co-founder of the Perception Institute, a self-described “consortium of researchers, advocates, and strategists who translate cutting edge mind science research on race, gender, ethnic, and other identities into solutions that reduce bias and discrimination, and promote belonging,” her Planned Parenthood biography reads.
She also is a founder for the Culture Group, self-described “collaboration of social change experts and creative producers who believe that cultural change is essential to social change.”
7. She Serves on Several Boards
According to her biographies, the boards she serves on include Color of Change, Revolutions Per Minute, and Narrative Initiative. She has also been on the board of New York Civil Liberties Union, Center for Social Inclusion, and Citizen Engagement Lab.
8. She Has Worked with Starbucks
McGill Johnson co-created the “Starbucks racial bias curriculum, which launched as a nationwide training initiative on May 29, 2018,” according to her Perception Institute biography. As a part of that project, she took part in a video on “Understanding Bias.”
9. She Has Worked with Sean “Diddy” Combs and Russell Simmons
According to that same biography, in anticipation of the 2004 presidential election, McGill Johnson served as political director for record executive Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. Afterwards, she became the executive director of Citizen Change, a nonprofit founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs that educated “young diverse voters through grassroots and tailored social media efforts.” While there, she launched its “Vote or Die!” campaign.
10. She Was Inspired by Condoleezza Rice
In an Initiative Radio interview, McGill Johnson confirmed that Condoleezza Rice helped inspire her career choices while a student in the ‘90s when America was “still dealing a lot with the breakdown of Russia.”
Rice was “on TV all the time,” she said, as a “black woman who was incredibly intelligent, incredibly thoughtful, explaining a situation thousands of miles away and giving us insight into it.”
When McGill Johnson applied to graduate school, she actually got to speak on the phone with Rice, who was the head of Stanford’s graduate studies program at the time.
McGill Johnson admitted she “turned into a bit of a groupie” during the call. “She’d always been in the back of my head as a vision of who I could be,” she said. “As a black woman, I was so inspired by her.”
She called Rice’s comments “disappointing” when Rice told her “I don’t think that you should solely define yourself as a black woman,” but instead “the best person you can be.” Even so, McGill Johnson says, she still has “tremendous respect” for Rice.