Interview

Inside the Mind of Planned Parenthood’s New Leader

Getting to know Dr. Leana Wen.

Riccardo Vecchio Imprints for Foreign Policy
Riccardo Vecchio Imprints for Foreign Policy

Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of reproductive health services in the United States and a rallying cry for conservative critics, who want to strip the organization of federal funds. Enter Leana Wen, 35, Planned Parenthood’s incoming president and a practicing emergency room physician. Wen moved to the United States from China as a child after her parents received political asylum. As health commissioner of Baltimore over the last four years, she successfully sued the Trump administration, forcing the government to restore $5 million in grant funding for pregnancy prevention programs, and tackled the opioid epidemic in the city.

Foreign Policy presented her with a modified Proust Questionnaire, which has been edited for publication.

Foreign Policy: What is your greatest fear?

Leana Wen: Not speaking up. I grew up with a severe stutter, and it took me many years to overcome my fear of speaking.

FP: Which living person do you most admire?

LW: Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings—my son, Eli, is named after him. He’s someone whom I greatly admire for his steadfast commitment to social justice and his call for us to reach not only for common ground but for higher ground. He is someone I want my son to model his values after.

FP: Which talent would you most like to have?

LW: Power to add hours to the day. My predecessor at the Baltimore City Health Department quipped that our ability to get things done was limited only by our ability to stay awake. He was right.

[Here’s where #MeToo took off in 2018—and where to watch in 2019.]

FP: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

LW: Empowering everyday people to save the lives of family members, friends, and community members through my blanket prescription for naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote. In three years in Baltimore, nearly 3,000 lives were saved.

FP: What is your most treasured possession?

LW: Eli’s baby pictures.

FP: Who are your favorite writers?

LW: Anna Quindlen, Joyce Carol Oates, Nadine Gordimer, Ian Rankin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Bryan Stevenson. One of the quotes I often refer to is from Stevenson’s book Just Mercy: “We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community.”

FP: Which historical figure do you most identify with?

LW: Virginia Apgar, Rudolf Virchow, and Luther Terry for their outspoken and powerful advocacy for the public’s health.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Foreign Policy magazine.

Sarah Wildman is Foreign Policy’s deputy editor for print and the host of the First Person podcast. She is the author of Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind. Twitter: @SarahAWildman

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