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The Ms. Q&A: How Dr. Leana Wen Plans to Take Planned Parenthood Boldly Forward


Dr. Leana Sheryle Wen has a powerful resume.

Wen is an writer, advocate and doctor. She’s a former emergency doctor and medical faculty professor who has instructed college students at campuses like George Washington College and Harvard. She was as soon as the president of the American Medical Scholar Affiliation and the American Academy of Emergency Drugs/Resident and Scholar Affiliation. She served beneath two mayors as Baltimore’s metropolis well being commissioner. She’s the writer of When Docs Don’t Pay attention: How to Keep away from Misdiagnoses and Pointless Checks.

And as we speak is her first day as President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Wen is the primary Asian American to lead the group, and the primary physician to tackle the publish in shut to 5 many years. As she ready for the “massive undertaking” forward, she opened up to Ms. about what the group means to her and the imaginative and prescient that she’s bringing together with her to its nationwide headquarters.

The work begins now. pic.twitter.com/J8rTwIn4s2

— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) November 12, 2018

You’ve spoken earlier than about how the ladies in your loved ones all had relationships with Planned Parenthood as a corporation. Do you keep in mind the primary time you went to a Planned Parenthood clinic? How did these experiences take you from the ready room to the place you at the moment are—from a affected person to a supporter, healthcare supplier and advocate? 

My mom, sister and I have been all sufferers of Planned Parenthood. When my mother and father and I first immigrated to the U.S., we had very difficult financial circumstances. We got here to this nation with lower than 40 dollars to our identify, we relied on Medicaid and meals stamps and regardless that my mother and father labored a number of jobs we struggled to make ends meet. Throughout these occasions, my mom trusted Planned Parenthood for her care as a result of she couldn’t get it anyplace else. I all the time considered Planned Parenthood as a spot that gave my mom refuge, when no one else did.

I used to be additionally a Planned Parenthood affected person. Once I was a youngster and needed to ask questions on contraception, I knew Planned Parenthood would have all of the choices and knowledge I wanted, and I additionally knew I might go to them for judgment-free schooling and counseling.

These experiences have been very private to me, however they’re actually the norm. One in 5 ladies in America rely upon Planned Parenthood for well being care sooner or later of their lives. That’s an enormous purpose why I used to be drawn to this position as Planned Parenthood’s president. A core precept of public well being is to go the place the best want is, and proper now ladies’s well being is the only largest public well being disaster of our time. That’s why it’s crucial that we reaffirm that ladies’s well being care is well being care, that reproductive well being care is well being care and that well being care is a elementary human proper.

You’re the first physician in almost 50 years to head Planned Parenthood in its 100-plus-year historical past. How does that background form your imaginative and prescient for the group?

Planned Parenthood was based by a nurse, who like me was pushed to her calling of offering well being care. That’s what Planned Parenthood has been doing for greater than 100 years, and that’s what I’ve been doing all through my life.

I’m an emergency doctor, and I present well being care on the entrance strains. I’ve seen what occurs when individuals don’t have entry to care. I handled a lady who waited a yr earlier than she had a lump in her breast examined. She didn’t have medical insurance. She was recognized with metastatic most cancers. Not lengthy after I noticed her, she died, abandoning three younger youngsters. And because the former Well being Commissioner for the Metropolis of Baltimore, I offered well being care providers to Baltimore’s most weak residents immediately via our clinics whereas additionally working to change the broader circumstances that influence entry to well being.

What I’ve discovered is that it’s not sufficient to simply present well being care when the fitting to entry that care is threatened every single day. That’s why, as a physician and public well being chief, I’ve been preventing to shield and to increase entry wherever I can. For instance, in Baltimore, we sued the Trump administration once they tried to minimize our teen being pregnant prevention funds—we gained. And significant funding was restored to present complete reproductive well being schooling once more to 20,000 of Baltimore’s younger individuals. We additionally sued the Trump administration for willfully and deliberately sabotaging the Reasonably priced Care Act. We fought to introduce laws across the opioid epidemic, and I issued a blanket prescription for the opioid overdose antidote naloxone to each citizen of Baltimore Metropolis, serving to on a regular basis individuals save almost three,000 lives from opioid overdose.

I’ve seen what occurs when individuals don’t have entry to the care they want. Preventing for that entry is what I’ve been doing my whole profession. That’s what I’ll deliver to in my position as President of Planned Parenthood.

To explain your new position as a “massive undertaking” can be an understatement. What do you assume your first day on the job will appear to be? What are you most excited to dive into, and what course do you see your self taking Planned Parenthood?

They are saying that nothing makes you extra sure of your convictions than being a mother or father. In fascinated by this job, I mirrored quite a bit on my son, Eli, who’s now 14-months previous.

On the one hand, I had a demanding job I beloved in Baltimore, serving residents within the metropolis I deeply care about, and coming again to work as a brand new mother has already been difficult. However, I considered what it will imply to come into this position at Planned Parenthood at a time when the whole lot is on the road for ladies’s well being and rights.

I mirrored on my obligation to Eli and generations but to come, and I acknowledged that we will’t wait. The cavalry isn’t coming. I want to step up and do every part I can to make this a extra simply, humane world for Eli and all our youngsters. That’s why I’m excited to proceed the struggle to guarantee everybody has entry to the elemental proper to well being care.

It could possibly’t be a privilege that’s out there to some—it’s a proper that must be obtainable for all.

You’re taking the reigns at Planned Parenthood throughout an period of unprecedented assaults on ladies’s rights, and particularly ladies’s reproductive rights—and particularly your personal group’s position in that area. What do you assume it should take to maintain abortion between a lady and her healthcare supplier, and out of the arms of politicians? How is Planned Parenthood bracing itself for the fights forward?

I’m deeply troubled by how ladies’s well being care particularly is singled out and attacked. Medically, it doesn’t make sense to deal with one sort of well being care in a different way than another. Getting drugs in your youngsters, having medical insurance, stopping breast and cervical most cancers shouldn’t be political. These are primary providers. And for the almost 2.5 million sufferers who search care from Planned Parenthood yearly, they’re not making a political assertion once they stroll by means of our doorways, they’re there as a result of they want primary medical care. Planned Parenthood and well being facilities like ours, for therefore many hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout the nation, is their main supplier of well being care, and defending our sufferers’ entry to life-saving care is the struggle of our time.

That is very true after the current affirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Courtroom. There’s a actual and possible probability that within the subsequent yr Roe v. Wade could possibly be overturned or additional eroded. Proper now, there are 15 abortion instances which are one step away from the Supreme Courtroom. On the similar time, dozens of states are poised to ban abortion, which can have an effect on 25 million ladies—one-third of girls of reproductive age on this nation. That’s why Planned Parenthood, our allies and our supporters should proceed standing up to shield, defend and battle for the individuals we serve. It’s about our well being, our rights and our futures.

As you’ve stated, taking this job is absolutely main a motion. The place do you hope to see that motion by the top of your personal tenure? What alternatives do you assume lie forward for increasing care, smashing stigma and reshaping the dialog round ladies’s well being?

Once I look across the nation, I see the large unmet want in entry to care. Maternal mortality within the U.S. has elevated during the last 30 years. Ladies go with out main care and important providers, and have undiagnosed hypertension, diabetes and most cancers. I additionally see the integral position that Planned Parenthood performs in communities by way of the unimaginable work that we’re doing to look after our sufferers.

Across the nation, by way of our 600 well being facilities, we offer important well being care providers like most cancers screenings, household planning and well-woman exams. We offer the complete spectrum of reproductive well being providers, together with contraception and abortion. For a lot of of our sufferers, we’re their solely supply of well being care.

In these difficult occasions, we don’t again down—we should transfer boldly ahead. It’s what we’ve got achieved for 100 years and we’ll achieve this for 100 extra. I consider it’s our ethical crucial to not solely proceed the providers that we already supply however to broaden them. Our sufferers come to us with many well being wants. We might be wanting to increase our providers in offering psychological well being, habit remedy, main care and pre- and post-natal care. We may also purpose to broaden our attain, together with by means of schooling and progressive methods to present care like telemedicine.

Whereas we offer care, we now have to battle stigma. I’ve grown more and more involved about how reproductive well being care, ladies’s well being care is singled out, stigmatized and attacked. Think about if we requested individuals whether or not a vasectomy must be authorized after which we restricted entry to it—it simply wouldn’t occur, and it’s outrageous. The Trump administration is probably going about to make last a “gag rule” that may forbid docs and nurses from telling our sufferers their choices for reproductive well being. How a lot outrage would there be if the federal government advised docs that they will’t give sufferers with diabetes details about insulin?

That’s why I’ll proceed to emphasize what drugs and science tells us to be true: reproductive well being care is well being care. By not treating it the identical means, we make it more durable for individuals to entry the care they want.

We’re already paying the worth for politicizing it—ladies’s lives are in peril if they can’t get the care they want. That’s why we’ll proceed preventing with the whole lot we’ve and can proceed to present high quality well being care and schooling to all our sufferers, it doesn’t matter what.

ms-headshotLauren Younger is a Ms. contributor. She has a Grasp’s Diploma in European and Russian Research from Yale College and a Bachelor’s Diploma in Authorities and Russian Civilization from Smith School. Comply with her on @thatlaurenyoung.

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