ONE REASON Planned Parenthood selected Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen as its new president is because of her background as an emergency room doctor. What better way to emphasize the critical role Planned Parenthood plays in providing health care services each year to nearly 2.5 million people than having a doctor at the helm? Another reason is likely hinted at by something Dr. Wen said in 2016, a year into her job as health commissioner. “I’ve learned that I like a fight,” she told NPR, “. . . and I’m good at it.”
Dr. Wen will succeed longtime president Cecile Richards at a critical — some fear precarious — time in the organization’s 102-year history. Despite overwhelming public support for Planned Parenthood, President Trump campaigned on a promise to defund the organization, and has looked to Republican allies in Congress and to his executive rulemaking authority in pursuit of that goal. The government already barred the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, but critics of Planned Parenthood want to go further. They would prohibit any Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood for serving poor patients for any health services. Some states have cut funding, causing some clinics to close. Additionally, the changing makeup of the Supreme Court, which is likely to tilt to the right if Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh is confirmed, may bring further encroachments on abortion rights.
Dr. Wen, acclaimed for her forward-thinking public health agenda in Baltimore, has proved to be effective in pushing back. She helped to sue the Trump administration for cuts in the city’s teen pregnancy prevention programs and won restoration of $5 million in federal grants. She is involved in another lawsuit accusing the administration of intentionally undermining the Affordable Care Act, and has been an advocate for the city’s health clinics for low-income women. “Dr. Wen is fearless,” a Planned Parenthood official who was on the search team told the New York Times. “As an emergency physician, she has faced dire and urgent [crises] and demonstrated her ability to quickly and very effectively save lives.”
She also knows perhaps better than anyone why it is so important to protect Planned Parenthood. When she came to the United States from China as a child, her family relied on Planned Parenthood for medical care. As a doctor working in the emergency room, she saw on a daily basis what happens when people don’t have access to regular health care. Most telling was the story she related on a video released by Planned Parenthood: “I remember seeing a young woman lying on a stretcher, pulseless and unresponsive because of a home abortion — because she was too scared to seek medical care. I did everything I could to resuscitate her, but she died.”