Planned Parenthood named a Chinese immigrant who has headed Baltimore’s health department as the organization’s new president on Wednesday.
“Today is a historic day for Planned Parenthood and the millions of people it serves. After an extensive search, I’m proud to announce that Dr. Leana Wen will serve as our next president,” Naomi Aberly, chair of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board of Directors, said in a statement.
Wen, 35, is the first physician in nearly 50 years ― and only the second ever ― to be named Planned Parenthood’s president. She will take over the job from outgoing president Cecile Richards starting Nov. 12.
“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,” Aberly said.
Wen, born in Shanghai, came to the U.S. with her parents as an 8-year-old and was raised in the Los Angeles area. Prior to her tenure as Baltimore health commissioner, Wen was an emergency room doctor at two hospitals in the Boston area, including Massachusetts General Hospital.
In a statement published Wednesday, Wen reflected on her new role.
“Today, the Board of Directors at Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced that I have been selected as its president,” she wrote. “For the last 102 years, no organization has done more for women’s health than Planned Parenthood, and I’m truly honored to be named its president.”
“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,” Wen continued. “As a doctor, I will ensure we continue to provide high-quality health care, including the full range of reproductive care, and will fight to protect the access of millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood.”
Richards congratulated Wen in a series of tweets Wednesday, writing that she “couldn’t be prouder” to welcome her to the Planned Parenthood family.
“She has dedicated her career to fighting for health care for all, both as a doctor and as a public health leader in the city of Baltimore,” Richards wrote. “I know she’ll be a champion for Planned Parenthood patients and for women, men, and young people everywhere.”
Richards announced in January she would be stepping down as president after 12 years at the organization’s helm.
An array of Republican politicians and religious right leaders have repeatedly attacked Planned Parenthood in recent years in efforts to defund the women’s health organization. The attacks are rooted in the myth that taxpayer money pays for abortions, although women pay out of pocket for the procedure unless it’s covered by their health insurance. Additionally, the Hyde Amendment has long prevented federal money from being used to fund abortion procedures.
Planned Parenthood offers extensive health services, including STI/STD testings, breast exams, diabetes testing and flu vaccines. Many Planned Parenthoods also offer abortion procedures, which only account for 3 percent of the health organization’s overall services.
This story has been updated to note the GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood and to list some of the services the group provides.