Planned Parenthood has chosen a 35-year-old doctor to succeed Cecile Richards as president, the first time in five decades a doctor will lead the billion-dollar enterprise.
On Wednesday, the nation's top abortion provider announced Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore's Commissioner of Health, as its new president. Wen broke the news in a statement posted to the department's website. While acknowledging Baltimore's ongoing struggles with the opioid epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of Americans, she said "the single biggest public health catastrophe of our time" was any attempt to limit or reform abortions.
"No organization has done more for women's health than Planned Parenthood, and I'm truly honored to be named its president," she said. "The single biggest public health catastrophe of our time is the threat to women's health and the health of our most vulnerable communities."
The daughter of Chinese political refugees, Wen and her family members were patients at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Wen later volunteered at a St. Louis clinic. The abortion provider touted her numerous accolades, including Baltimore being named the Local Health Department of the Year soon after she took over in 2015.
"Dr. Wen will lead the fight to protect access to reproductive health care," Planned Parenthood said on its website. "As someone who has been at the forefront of the fight for health services, first as an emergency doctor and then as a leader in public health. Dr. Wen firmly believes that medical care is a right for all." [sic]
Pro-life activists said the appointment of a doctor will do little to improve health care for vulnerable women if abortion remains at the center of Planned Parenthood's mission. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, pointed to the organization's track record of treating pregnant patients. About 96 percent of all pregnant patients were given abortions, while adoption, miscarriage, and other prenatal care represented only 4 percent, according to Planned Parenthood's 2016 annual report, the latest available.
"They specialize in ending the lives of unborn children, not offering lifesaving health care," Dannenfelser said in a statement. "The best thing Dr. Wen could do for Planned Parenthood is to help them live up to their claim of being an authentic women's health care provider."
Terry Schilling, executive director at the American Principles Project, said Wen's appointment was meant to "place a veneer of medical" credibility for the organization. He contrasted her resume with that of Richards, a veteran political actor who helped make Planned Parenthood one of the most powerful voices in the Democratic Party. It has poured tens of millions of dollars into its political campaigns, outside spending, and lobbying in recent years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Despite those expenditures, abortion limits and other reforms continue to spread at the state and local level and polling has shown majority support for banning later term abortions.
"It should come as no surprise that the country's largest abortion provider would opt to replace their outgoing president—a political activist—with a doctor in an attempt to place a veneer of medical legitimacy over their barbaric practices," Schilling said. "Planned Parenthood knows they need to deflect attention away from the actual reality of abortion in order to retain public support. It won't work."
Planned Parenthood has been at the center of the abortion debate for a century but has faced intense scrutiny, including state, federal, and congressional investigations after undercover videos were released showing senior Planned Parenthood officials candidly discussing its organ harvesting operation. In the wake of the scandal, several states have passed pro-life legislation to eliminate abortions after 20 weeks. The Trump administration has cut some of the $500 million Planned Parenthood receives every year in taxpayers' dollars, though GOP lawmakers have yet to defund the group entirely.
David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, is now the subject of criminal and civil suits related to the released videos after Planned Parenthood and its allies called on him to be prosecuted. He said Wen should begin implementing reforms similar to those she spearheaded in Baltimore, pointing to her initiatives dedicated to "radical transparency" in the medical field.
"Dr. Wen previously led initiatives calling for ‘radical transparency' from doctors about their views on controversial issues like abortion. In this spirit, Planned Parenthood and its new president should immediately disclose how many abortions Dr. Wen has performed, whether she will perform abortions as Planned Parenthood president and up to what gestational age, and if she supports contracts for baby body parts like the ones the biggest Planned Parenthood affiliates entered into under Richards's leadership," Daleiden said in a statement.
His organization went on to ask Wen if she supported the use of undercover video to contribute to "radical transparency" for doctors under the Planned Parenthood umbrella.
Planned Parenthood did not respond to request for comment.