Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill-Johnson talks Black sexual health, plans for Biden era

The new executive says Black maternal health is one of the organizations biggest concerns

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For nearly a decade, Alexis McGill-Johnson has been involved with Planned Parenthood.

She was named acting president and CEO in 2019, before being installed permanently in the seat in June of this year. In the years prior, she worked as a Planned Parenthood Federation of America board chair, Planned Parenthood Action Fund board member, and Planned Parenthood Federal PAC chair.

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McGill-Johnson’s first year as CEO has been a whirlwind. A renowned social and racial justice leader and lifelong political and cultural organizer, McGill-Johnson moved to mobilize Planned Parenthood’s 600 local centers amid the pandemic. As a tireless advocate for reproductive rights, she is committed to quality, affordable health care.

“Our affiliates and their health care centers have been on the ground every day despite what we are all experiencing. We have had employees getting sick, employees needing time off to help Zoom school their children,” she says.

“We are also fighting for access to PPE as health providers. Our work has been identifying how we can provide the most robust health care, and it varies state by state. But, I’m proud that our doors have stayed open and we have been able to provide quality care. STI treatments and other diagnoses, providing access to contraception. I mean, people didn’t stop having sex.”

PPFA/PP Action Acting President Alexis McGill Johnson is pictured 2019 portrait headshot. (Credit: Planned Parenthood)

She explains that as a 104-year-old organization with 600 free or low-cost sexual health clinics across the country, Planned Parenthood provides essential health care and community.

“It is an essential part of the health infrastructure,” she explains. “We are poised to support COVID testing and offer the vaccines to the extent that we can because we have built community trust.”

McGill-Johnson is the second African American woman to lead the historic organization. The acclaimed activist, Faye Wattleton, was the first. She led the organization from 1978 to 1992 during a historic time of political engagement for the entity.

In the last few years, Planned Parenthood has been under siege from conservative leadership in states, as well as the Trump administration. The confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court has sounded an alarm among sexual health and abortion activists.

“We’ve seen this administration try to roll back the clock using the court as a strategy. You know, very conservative judges who now have lifetime appointments,” McGill-Johnson says. “We are seeing 18 cases that are roughly one step away from the Supreme Court that could undermine access to abortion, that we are very concerned about. And so, the work that we need to do to make sure that we are working with this administration and with the new Congress to shore up and ensure that access to health care support, it is just critical.”

Anti-Abortion Groups Rally Outside Last Planned Parenthood Clinic In Missouri
A women stands with her child in a stroller during a pro-life rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Center on June 4, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Known for providing access to abortion, Planned Parenthood also provides basic sexual health care, STI diagnosis, and cancer detection. Further, the organization is just as passionate about maternal health during pregnancy. For this goal, they are excited to have a partner in Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

“I think putting the work that we did to drive this election in context means that we are now sitting at the table with the Biden administration in a much different way,” McGill-Johnson says. “We need to make sure that his [Biden’s] personnel, the people that he’s bringing in key positions, like health and human services, are people who have a strong, unwavering record on reproductive health rights and justice.”

She continues, “I think one of the other issues of particular importance for us as Black women is around the maternal mortality crisis, but it’s something that Vice President-elect Harris has sought to address. She’s a co-sponsor of the Black maternal health Momnibus Act.”

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McGill-Johnson is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., which is the Vice President-elect’s sorority as well. During the election cycle, the activist participated in activities to mobilize the vote. She believes that the financial support and active work from African American women have earned them a right to have their needs addressed by the new administration.

When asked what are some ways that people can engage and support Planned Parenthood, the answer was an uncommon one. While financial support is always needed, McGill-Johnson most wants people to educate themselves around sexual health.

“We are going to have to fight state by state and make sure that our health care isn’t determined by our zip code,” she says. “And so, I want people to be engaged and aware of what’s happening, and the impact that is going to have on Black women, and in fact, all women. So that we can all fight together to ensure access to sexual reproductive health for all.”

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