Planned Parenthood's New President Wants Politics Out of Women's Health Care

Leana Wen, the new head of Planned Parenthood, told BuzzFeed News she doesn't believe people seek out the organization's services to "make a political statement."
January 8, 2019, 5:58pm
Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen

Planned Parenthood's new president is trying to decouple two things she doesn't think always have to go together: women's reproductive health and politics.

In a sit-down with BuzzFeed News, Leana Wen, who stepped into her role in November, said she hopes to change Planned Parenthood's image, pivoting it away from its reputation as an activist group and focusing instead on the basic health care services.


“People aren’t coming to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement,” Wen, the first physician to ever hold the organization's top post, told the site. “They’re coming because they need their vaccinations. They need their well woman exams. They’re getting HIV tests.”

Wen's philosophy appears to be a significant departure from that of her predecessor, Cecile Richards, who, during her 12-year tenure as president, served as a vocal leader of the pro-choice movement, most recently taking on President Donald Trump's anti-abortion agenda. "We are seeing that this administration is the worst for women that I've seen in my lifetime," Richards told CNN just before stepping down in April.

Wen is no less of an adversary to Trump.

In her former role as Baltimore health commissioner, Wen lead the city in suing the Trump administration following its announcement that it would be cut a grant for teen pregnancy prevention programs across the country. (Following a barrage of suits like Wen's, a judge ruled in May that the decision to end the funding was illegal, and government officials reinstated the program.)

Now as the head of Planned Parenthood, Wen plans to go to bat with the Trump administration again, this time to fight its proposed Title X policy, which would block federal family planning dollars from going to organizations that provide abortions as part of their range of health care services. The policy has Planned Parenthood squarely in its crosshairs, being part of a slate of strategies the administration and GOP lawmakers have employed in attempts to defund the organization. Wen called the effort to block the new restrictions "one of the biggest and most important fights we will see this year."

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Wen told BuzzFeed News she hopes to expand the health services Planned Parenthood provides with clinic workers who are trained to spot ailments that could be related to diet, depression, and addiction. But Wen emphasized that none of these objectives mean moving away from abortion care.

Just a few months ago, the organization rolled out a new campaign called "Care for All," a three-part plan to increase abortion access under the shadow of a conservative-leaning Supreme Court threatening the end to Roe v. Wade.

“The last thing I would want is people to get the impression that we are backing off of our core services,” she told BuzzFeed News. “What we will always be here to do is provide abortion access as part of the full spectrum of reproductive health care, it’s who we are. But we also recognize that for so many of our patients we are their only source of health care.”