Dr. Leana Wen: Meet the First Physician to Lead Planned Parenthood

June 17 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: History of Birth Control

Let’s talk about the history of birth control. Backin 3000 B.C., condoms were made out of fish bladders, among other gross things. In 1873, birth control was banned, and Congress allowed mail carriers to confiscate birth control deliveries.

Margaret Sanger appeared in the early 20th century and opened the first birth control clinic. By 1950, she helped underwrite research for the first birth control pill, and by 1960, the FDA approved it. The Supreme Court allowed married folks access to the pill, but more than half of US states prohibited unmarried women from using the pill. We’ve come a long way, y’all, but there’s still more controversy and exclusion to come.


Margaret Sanger is, of course, the woman who started Planned Parenthood. For the most part, she has a celebrated reputation, aside from some inarticulate interviews. (Ugh, the 1920s). Her core mission was the idea that “enforced motherhood” denied rights and liberties of women. Now, Planned Parenthood has more than 600 clinics around the country. From prenatal care to breast exams to vasectomies, it’s often the resource for those with limited healthcare access.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Dr. Leana Wen, President of Planned Parenthood

If you want to participate in a rousing family reunion, women’s healthcare is a topic of discussion to propose. While Planned Parenthood has long been a politicized icon of a women’s right to choose, it’s also important to note that women’s health includes a lot, most of which Planned Parenthood provides.

Dr. Leana Wen is the president of Planned Parenthood, and the first physician to assume the role in decades. Leana immigrated to the states from China at the age of 7 and started her professional journey very young, at just 13. Yep, that’s when she started college. While the rest of us were trying to get away with spaghetti straps and chokers in middle school, Leana dove into her collegiate studies, becoming a college graduate at 18, and later, a Rhodes Scholar.

Before leading Planned Parenthood, Leana worked as the health commissioner of Baltimore, where she fought for maternal and child health, as well as other key issues. She knew medicine was her destiny during all those doctor’s visits she went to for her severe asthma. When Leana recalls her time with patients, she says she noticed that illnesses weren’t an individual issue, but that they were a systemic problem.

Leana, her mother and her sister all used Planned Parenthood for their healthcare needs. As Leana says, one in five women will go to a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime, and we women aren’t the ones who politicized the process. It’s been more than a century since the organization got started - and now, Leana is helping pave the way for more inclusive health care services, like hormone therapy for transgender individuals.

When Leana was approached for her previous Baltimore commissioner job, she dismissed it, thinking she didn’t meet the qualifications. A friend gave her the pep talk she needed: that if a man were offered the position, he’d apply even if he met only a couple of the bullet points. Learning to believe in herself is an ongoing process for Leana, as it is for us all.


One confident queen, Dolly Parton, said it best:

"If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader."

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