Yesterday (September 12), Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced that it has a new president, Dr. Leana Wen. She is the first doctor to occupy the role in nearly 50 years, and she takes over at the health care provider at a time of increased risk to women’s reproductive rights.
Planned Parenthood provides care to more than 2.4 million people across the country. The 102-year-old organization is a frequent target of conservative groups and politicians. With the pending appointment of anti-choice rights nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, Wen takes charge when women’s reproductive rights are at risk of being eroded in the courts.
Wen is currently the commissioner of health for Baltimore, where she heads the Baltimore City Health Department in the majority-Black city. Under Wen’s direction, the B’More for Healthy Babies program has contributed to a nearly 40 percent reduction in infant mortality over the course of seven years. “Wen also oversaw the expansion of the city’s health insurance plan to cover transgender-related services, such as gender-confirming surgeries and hormone replacement therapy (HRT),” reports Rewire.News.
This past March, Wen, the Baltimore City Health Department and the City of Baltimore sued the Trump administration for cutting funds for teen pregnancy prevention; a judge ruled that $5 million in grant funding to two Baltimore-based teen pregnancy programs had to be reinstated. Wen also fought to save 23 Baltimore health clinics that provide reproductive health care for lower-income earning women and were being threatened under federal changes to Title X. Reports Rewire:
The announcement [of her appointment at Planned Parenthood] comes at a critical juncture for the organization, as the potentially imminent finalization of the Trump administration’s Title X domestic gag rule, which would ban providers from mentioning or referring patients for abortion care, looms. Planned Parenthood serves 41 percent of all patients served through the Title X program, though it makes up just 13 percent of the program’s centers.
Wen denounced the gag rule in a press conference with local Maryland health officials and elected officials in July, and already has experience making public health plans to deal with the fall out of a loss of Title X funding in Baltimore, which may pay off soon for the organization.
“Anyone who has worked with Dr. Wen knows that when it comes to protecting her patients, she doesn’t back down from a fight,” said Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) in a statement released by Planned Parenthood. “In Baltimore, she has been a true partner in our shared mission to provide access to quality health care for all. She has expanded care, eliminated obstacles and, most important of all, saved lives.”
Wen was born in Shanghai, China, and at seven years old, she and her parents moved to the United States with $40. They became American citizens in 2003. Growing up in Compton, California, she, her mother and younger sister were patients at Planned Parenthood. During medical school, she volunteered at a St. Louis-based Planned Parenthood health center.
“As a patient, I depended on Planned Parenthood for medical care at various times in my own life, and as a public health leader, I have seen firsthand the lifesaving work it does for our most vulnerable communities,” she said in a statement.
Dr. Wen’s first day at Planned Parenthood is November 12.