Dr. Leana Wen, health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, has been chosen to be the new president of Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides reproductive health services in the United States.
Wen, an emergency physician and patient and community advocate, is expected to step in as the organization's new leader -- at a time when it continues to challenge the Trump administration and face new battles over abortion rights. This will be the first time in nearly 50 years that a physician will lead the organization.
"For more than 100 years, no organization has done more for women's health than Planned Parenthood, and I'm truly honored to be named its president," Wen said in a written statement released by the organization on Wednesday.
"As a patient, 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," she 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."
In a separate statement released by the city of Baltimore, Wen said her last day as health commissioner will be Friday, October 12.
What new leadership may look like
As health commissioner in Baltimore, Wen was outspoken about reproductive health issues affecting the city, especially last year, when the Trump administration cut some teen pregnancy prevention funding across the country.
As a result of the cuts, Wen estimated, 20,000 students in Baltimore would lose access to comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs and education.
"We see it as being irresponsible to cut this program now," Wen told CNN at the time.
The city of Baltimore filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Health and Human Services in response to the cuts. Judge Catherine Black of the US District Court for the District of Maryland ruled in the city's favor in April. The ruling ordered the department to process Baltimore's application for continued funding.
"This ruling means that Baltimore City students will continue to receive evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention education delivered by teachers specially trained to teach these important curricula," Wen said in a written statement in April.
"This means that we will be able to continue our work in reducing teen birth rates, which fell 61% in Baltimore City from 2000 to 2016," she said.
Wen garnered national attention when she issued a blanket prescription for the opioid overdose-reversing drug, naloxone, to all 620,000 residents in Baltimore. Wen issued that standing order in 2015 in an effort to battle the opioid epidemic plaguing the city and the country.
In March, Wen told CNN that the order helped residents save more than 1,600 lives, but the city also has had to ration a limited supply of the life-saving drug because there has been a lack of resources to purchase it.
"Every day, I have to decide: Who are the people in our city who have access to this medication?" she said at the time. "I hope that Congress and the federal government will hear our pleas for help and provide us with the resources we need."
Wen was appointed Baltimore's health commissioner in January 2015. Before then, she was an attending physician and director of patient-centered care in the department of emergency medicine at George Washington University.
She received her medical training from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Brigham & Women's Hospital/Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In 2013, Wen was working at Massachusetts General Hospital the day of the Boston Marathon bombing.
In her new role, Wen will lead Planned Parenthood, which was founded in 1916.
Today, Planned Parenthood affiliates operate more than 600 health centers across the United States offering reproductive health services including pregnancy testing and services; STD testing, treatment and vaccines; birth control and emergency contraception; men's health services; LGBT services; and abortion services and referral.
Richards helped elevate the profile of Planned Parenthood, which has been the subject of criticism by anti-abortion organizations that have called on the government to strip its funding.
"Leading Planned Parenthood over the last 12 years has been the honor of my lifetime. Together, we have made real progress in this country, expanding access to services and making reproductive rights a central priority of our nation's health care system," Richards said in a written statement in January.
"I'm deeply proud of the progress we've made for the millions of people Planned Parenthood health centers serve across the country each year," she said. "Every day we see the incredible power that grassroots voices can have -- there has never been a better moment to be an activist. You can bet I'll be marching right alongside them, continuing to travel around the country advocating for the basic rights and health care that all people deserve. I've been an activist my entire life -- and that won't stop any time soon.
A continuing battle
Richards' departure came at a time when abortion rights are increasingly under pressure from conservatives and the Trump administration.
In May, the Trump administration proposed a nationwide gag rule that would cut off funding from the Title X family planning program to Planned Parenthood and other centers unless they stop providing abortions or referring people for abortions.
"This proposal does not necessarily defund Planned Parenthood, as long as they're willing to disentangle taxpayer funds from abortion as a method of family planning," an administration official said at the time. "Any grantees that perform, support or refer for abortion have a choice: disentangle themselves from abortion or fund their activities with privately raised funds."
The law prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions. And even though Planned Parenthood insists that the Title X funding it receives is used for the many non-abortion services it provides -- including access to birth control, Pap smears and pregnancy and STD testing -- conservatives have long argued that Planned Parenthood and reproductive health care centers like it should be cut off from family planning federal funding altogether.
The bulk of federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives comes through reimbursements from Medicaid, which would not be affected by the new rule. It's the fraction that comes from Title X that is at stake. About 4 million people depend on Title X-funded health clinics for care every year, according to Planned Parenthood.
The organization has remained outspoken about what it calls an "attack on women's health and rights" by the Trump administration.
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