Closing The Gap

How the CEO of Planned Parenthood is preparing for a future without Roe v. Wade: ‘We've been planning for this moment for years’

President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Alexis McGill Johnson at the Women's March Foundation's National Day Of Action, "Bans Off Our Bodies" reproductive rights rally at Los Angeles City Hall on May 14, 2022.
Sarah Morris | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

In May, when a leaked draft opinion showed that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade — effectively removing nearly 50 years of federal protections for abortion — all eyes turned to Planned Parenthood. 

Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of sexual and reproductive health care, including elective abortion care, in the U.S., overseeing more than 600 health centers throughout the country and providing about 37% of abortion services to thousands of patients in the U.S. each year, the organization reports.

The leaked draft was a shock to some, but Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, tells CNBC Make It that the organization has been preparing for a world without Roe v. Wade since her first day on the job. 

"We've been planning for this moment for years," she says. "For a long time, people did not actually believe that Roe v. Wade could ever be overturned, but the right to abortion has always been vulnerable and could always be taken away." 

The current case being considered by the Court, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, centers on a Mississippi law that would ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the court decides that Mississippi's ban is constitutional, individual states would be able to restrict when and how women could terminate their pregnancies without the federal courts' say. 

"If not this case, there were at least 15 others that were winding their way through the courts," McGill Johnson says. "I think the leak of the draft opinion has closed that believability gap about protections for abortion in a significant way … people now realize the right to abortion is much more at risk than they previously thought." 

For Planned Parenthood, this would mean pivoting when, where and how they provide abortions. 

This wouldn't be the first time they've had to be creative about how they structure their services: The organization has been at the center of several legal battles against the federal and state governments over funding restrictions, criminal penalties on doctors performing abortions and abortion referral services, among other issues.

Ahead of the Supreme Court's decision, McGill Johnson says Planned Parenthood is focused on boosting access to abortion in states where the procedure is expected to remain legal, especially states like Colorado and Illinois, which share borders with states ready to immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

That includes increasing staff and funding at centers in these states and bolstering their patient navigation system, which connects people with Planned Parenthood representatives that can answer questions about their services, costs and schedule out-of-state procedures. 

McGill Johnson adds that Planned Parenthood is also expanding the availability of certain services that will become "more critical" if abortion becomes more restricted in the U.S., such as providing birth control, emergency contraception and mental health counseling. 

"We want to ensure that patients get the care that they need, even in states where abortion is banned or severely restricted," she says. 

It's been two years since McGill Johnson stepped into the role of CEO. Prior to that, she spent a decade as the executive director of the Perception Institute, a research consortium that advises business leaders on issues of bias and discrimination.

Her tenure as Planned Parenthood's CEO has been a trial by fire thus far, marked by a global pandemic, a reckoning against systemic racism and other events that marked a tumultuous start — but the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade will be McGill Johnson's biggest test yet. 

The greatest lesson she's learned since becoming CEO, however, is trusting and investing in the right talent, a tactic that McGill Johnson says has also helped her become a more effective leader. 

"Empowering my team to make decisions and getting myself out of the weeds has freed me to focus on the bigger picture vision, and strategy, of Planned Parenthood," she explains. 

McGill Johnson sees Planned Parenthood as a "core part of the United States' public health infrastructure." Now, as abortion access might radically change in the U.S., she's focused on one goal: "To remain nimble and fight back against restrictions on abortion care."

Check out:

Janet Yellen: Overturning Roe v. Wade would be 'very damaging' to the economy, women

Corporate boards continue to make slow progress toward gender parity, new report shows

Yelp, Citi, Apple and more are expanding employee benefits to cover abortion care

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

A CEO opened up about a divorce - and learned a valuable work lesson
A CEO opened up about a divorce - and learned a valuable work lesson