Friday, September 14, 2018
Slate (Sept. 12, 2018): Planned Parenthood’s Next President: An Immigrant Doctor of Color Who Grew Up on Medicaid, by Christina Cauterucci:
Planned Parenthood announced in September that its new president, Leana Wen, will start in November. Wen currently serves as Baltimore's health commissioner and is also an emergency room physician. She will be the second doctor to head the organization and the first one to do so in 50 years.
"In both her career and her lived experience, Wen is a near-perfect embodiment of the organization’s core concerns, client base, and trajectory." Wen left China for the United States as a political asylum-seeker when she was eight years old. Growing up in poverty in California, she relied on Medicaid and Planned Parenthood for her health care, and gave back as a medical student by volunteering with Planned Parenthood as well.
In her current role as health commissioner of Baltimore, Wen has contributed both to reducing infant mortality and to fighting against disparate racial treatment in the health care system.
After 10 years of leadership focusing on the political side of the organization under Cecile Richards, Wen is expected to emphasize the legitimacy of the medical branch of Planned Parenthood while also continuing to bolster PP's political activism.
While the majority of Americans support Planned Parenthood, it's often considered a political body and branch of the Democratic party above all else. "Wen will be well-positioned to make the medical case for practices like telemedicine abortions," among other services Planned Parenthood offers and causes it supports.
That Planned Parenthood chose as its next leader a young immigrant woman of color who grew up on Medicaid and has worked to combat health inequities is a testament to the organization’s semi-recent rebranding as one committed to not only reproductive choice but reproductive justice, an ethos that prioritizes equal access to care and includes related issues like mass incarceration and poverty. The organization came under fire in 2014 when several reproductive justice advocacy groups accused it of engaging in “the co-optation and erasure” of work done by women of color in the field by claiming the mantle of reproductive justice without crediting those who’d pioneered the framework. It has been working to shake that reputation ever since.
In hiring Wen, the organization seems to hope to cement their relevancy in the reproductive justice world, re-focusing on intersectionality in the movement as well as making the case for the medical necessity of Planned Parenthood in a country facing growing threats to reproductive rights.