Opinion: Local Planned Parenthood celebrates 50 Years Strong

Posted: April 10th, 2013 | Opinion, Opinion & News | No Comments

By Hilary Watcher, member of PPPSW development department and Bankers Hill resident

The year was 1963. John F. Kennedy was president, the Beatles were skyrocketing into fame, and the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique had reawakened the women’s movement in the United States.

Planned Parenthood will soon turn 50. (Courtesy PPPSW)

Planned Parenthood will soon turn 50. (Courtesy PPPSW)

Here in Southern California, Reverend Arthur G. Elcombe, a San Diego clergyman, gathered a group of people to establish the Planned Parenthood Association of San Diego. They started with a modest booth that offered educational and referral services, and within five years, they’d opened their first medical clinic, which served nearly 1,000 patients in its first year.

On January 22, 1973, 10 years after San Diego’s Planned Parenthood affiliate was established, the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling made early abortion legal in all 50 states – an enormous victory for women’s rights and reproductive health. By 1980, the Planned Parenthood Association of San Diego had 26,952 patient visits and a budget of $1.3 million, and would soon change its name to Planned Parenthood of San Diego & Riverside Counties (PPSDRC) to reflect its ever-expanding reach.

In 1981, Dr. Katharine Sheehan joined PPSDRC as the affiliate’s medical director and soon became an esteemed leader with Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

As the ‘90s came into focus, PPSDRC was thriving with more than 100,000 patient visits at 11 health centers, and a binational partnership in Tijuana provided the region south of the border with much-needed family planning assistance. By 2000, we saw the establishment of the local Action Fund, the purchase of the Mission Valley administration center, the operation of 15 health centers, and the launch of the Promotores Pro Salud program, which continues to serve low-income migrant communities.

In 2006, with the leadership of Rosanne and Joel Holliday, and Drs. Rita and Richard Atkinson, PPSDRC raised over $16 million with its Caring for the Future capital campaign, allowing the organization to increase patient volume by adding, expanding, or moving 13 service sites, as well as remodeling its administration building (now the Holliday Family Administration Center). Further, the Michelle Wagner Center, our flagship medical hub, was purchased and opened with family planning and surgical centers, the Achterkirchen Training Center, and the David V. Karney Lab. That year, we also welcomed Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson as President and CEO.

Fast-forward to today. With an annual budget of $60 million, 19 health centers providing more than 300,000 patient visits a year and nearly 500 employees, Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest (PPPSW – as of 2010 to reflect expansion into Imperial County) is the second-largest Planned Parenthood affiliate in the country.

Annually, we distribute approximately 700,000 cycles of birth control pills, rings, and patches, preventing hundreds of thousands of unintended pregnancies, and we provide more than 250,000 chlamydia and gonorrhea tests and 70,000 HIV tests.

Through partnerships with local agencies, school districts, and organizations, our Community Engagement department reaches 60,000 women, men, and youth with demographically resonant and culturally appropriate information. And we’re advocating like never before for affordable, accessible reproductive and sexual health care locally, statewide, and nationally.

It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in 50 years – and one can only dream of the advancements and progress the next 50 will bring.

As we celebrate 50 years strong in San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial counties, we are also honoring the retirement of our beloved Medical Director Dr. Katharine Sheehan, after 32 years of service at PPPSW.

With her leadership and expertise, Dr. Sheehan has shepherded medical advances including a resident training program and new methods of contraception, and she has also helped determine Planned Parenthood’s national medical programs by serving on Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s national medical committee.

We are thrilled to honor Dr. Sheehan with a lifetime achievement award at our 50th anniversary dinner, to be held on May 9 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. Dinner co-chairs Kathleen Strauss, Ph.D., and Nora Taylor Jaffe are working to make this our most successful celebration yet. We’ll have three extraordinary women in attendance, including Jessica Valenti, writer at The Nation and founder of; Cecile Richards, current president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Sarah Weddington, the winning Roe v. Wade attorney. You won’t want to miss this event!

These inspiring leaders are joined by the 50 Strong Honorary Committee, whose Honorary Chairs include K. Andrew Achterkirchen, Joan Jordan Bernstein, Susanna and Michael Flaster, PPPSW Board Chair R. Elaine Hanson, M.D. and her husband Bruce Robbins, M.D., Rosanne and Joel Holliday, Nora Taylor Jaffe, and Christy Walton.

For more information about the anniversary dinner or to purchase tickets or tables, please visit or contact the development department at 619-881-4500 or


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