NEW YORK (AP) – A Chinese immigrant who fled her native country when she was 8 was named Wednesday as Planned Parenthood’s new president, the first doctor to hold the post in five decades.
Dr. Leana Wen will assume the role Nov. 12, six days after midterm elections in which Planned Parenthood’s political wing plans to spend $20 million on behalf of candidates who support abortion rights.
Wen, who has been Baltimore’s health commissioner for since 2015, will be Planned Parenthood’s sixth president over a century of work providing millions of Americans with birth control, sex education and medical screenings.
The organization also is the largest provider of abortions in the U.S., making it a perennial target for anti-abortion activists. In recent years, its foes have been striving – thus far unsuccessfully – to halt the flow of federal funds that help Planned Parenthood provide some of its non-abortion services.
Wen succeeds Cecile Richards, who had been president since 2006 before resigning earlier this year.
Under Richards’ leadership, Planned Parenthood has been at odds with congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump on numerous fronts, most recently joining the intense opposition to Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Abortion-rights advocates fear that Kavanaugh will tilt the high court to the right, possibly opening the way for rulings that would reverse or weaken the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right for women to have abortions.
Wen and her family fled from China just before her 8th birthday, were granted political asylum in the U.S. and became U.S. citizens in 2003.
Wen graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Los Angeles and earned her medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine before becoming a Rhodes Scholar.
Early in her tenure as Baltimore’s health commissioner, she provided strong leadership as the city was wracked by violent protests related to disputed police actions. She expanded trauma and mental health services, and secured funding for a program designed to treat gun violence as a contagious disease.
Wen said she was proud of her accomplishments in Baltimore – including reducing infant mortality to record lows and providing eyeglasses for all children who needed them. But she said she could not resist the new job offer.
“For more than 100 years, no organization has done more for women’s health than Planned Parenthood,” Wen said. “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.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democratic congressman from Baltimore, praised the appointment, saying of Wen, “When it comes to protecting her patients, she doesn’t back down from a fight.”
With Wen’s encouragement, Baltimore sued the Trump administration for cutting funds for teen pregnancy prevention. A federal judge subsequently ordered the restoration of $5 million in grant funding to two Baltimore-based prevention programs.
This story has been corrected to show Wen began as Baltimore’s health commissioner in 2015, not 2014.