For the first time in 50 years, Planned Parenthood will be led by a doctor. The organization announced Wednesday that it had selected Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s commissioner of health, as its next president.
Naomi Aberly, chair of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board of Directors, called Wen “a dynamic public health leader and practicing physician” in a statement about the hire. “Not only will she help Planned Parenthood continue to provide high-quality care to women, men, and young people across the country, she will be a powerful voice in our fight to ensure women have the ability to make their own health care decisions—no matter what.”
Dr. Wen immigrated to the United States from China when she was nearly eight years old. She has implemented several effective public health policies in her current role as Baltimore’s commissioner of health, including overseeing the B’More For Healthy Babies initiative, which provides home visits for health providers and social workers for pregnant and new mothers. The program lowered the maternal mortality rate in the city by nearly 40 percent since 2009.
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). Planned Parenthood is one of the largest providers of HRT for trans patients in the United States.
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The announcement 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.
While Maryland’s General Assembly has taken steps to protect Title X funding in the state should Trump’s gag rule be finalized, Wen detailed some potential issues with the state’s legislative approach. “The problem is that the actual funding decision is at the discretion of the governor, and all of the other Title X centers would be subject to the ‘gag rule’ unless we turn down needed federal funding,” Wen told the Baltimore Sun, before detailing decisions that will have to be made should family planning providers in the city lose funding. “So that’s the choice that we face: Do we reduce our capacity to provide care for some of our city’s most vulnerable people, or do we knowingly censor our providers and force them to provide worse care?”
These are likely the same patient needs that will need to be balanced in her new role under a president who pledged to defund Planned Parenthood during his campaign and has thus far done his best to fulfill that promise.
As a former Planned Parenthood patient herself, Wen said she understands the importance of fighting for people to access quality reproductive care. “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. “As a doctor, I will ensure we continue to provide high-quality health care, including the full range of reproductive care, and will fight with everything I have to protect the access of millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood.”
Wen replaces outgoing president Cecile Richards, who in January announced her departure from the organization.