When Faye Wattleton took the helm at Planned Parenthood in 1978, the organization was a white-gloved charity. In the 14 years since, it has grown in stature and scope -- into a vital political force with a powerful lobbying presence in Washington, strong grass-roots support and an extensive program of litigation.
Ms. Wattleton, who announced her resignation last week, gets the credit. The first black and the first woman to head Planned Parenthood, she came to the task with a vision inspired by founder Margaret Sanger, who saw reproductive rights as universal and inalienable. At her first press conference, Ms. Wattleton shook up the status quo by announcing the organization would no longer be a "safe" charity for genteel suburbanites. It would become a strong advocate of choice.
In her 14 years as president, Ms. Wattleton has turned her vision into reality. The number of women served by the organization during her tenure has nearly quadrupled -- from 1.1 million in 1978 to 4.1 million in 1990. Despite the antagonism toward Planned Parenthood by the Reagan and Bush administrations (which culminated in a cutoff of federal funds if its clinics so much as mentioned the word abortion), the number of women who received abortions at Planned Parenthood facilities in 1990 (130,000) remains low compared to the more than 3 million who got birth control, prenatal care and pregnancy tests that year.