By Reverend Arthur G. Elcombe, Ph.D.
I came to San Diego in 1960 as Director of Episcopal Community Services. Shortly after arriving to town I visited a woman in the then -County Hospital in San Diego, who had just delivered her fourth child. Her oldest was 7 years of age. I discussed contraception with her, but to my surprise she reported that all medical staff members in the hospital, including the residents in the Obstetrics department, were forbidden by law to provide birth control. I immediately investigated and confirmed that she was right. I looked for Planned Parenthood in the phone book, but couldn't find it. Thankfully, I was able to connect the patient with a local doctor for birth control services.
Still troubled by the lack of services for women, I wrote to the Los Angeles Planned Parenthood and received a reply from them as well as a letter from the Pasadena affiliate. I talked to several people about my concern regarding the lack of a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Diego. A year and a half later I received a call from a woman who was interested in developing Planned Parenthood services in San Diego. Several meetings were called with people who were interested, including a member of the County Board of Supervisors, who provided public support, and the Director of Public Health, who provided professional support. Widening support provided funds to rent an office in the city-owned House of Hospitality in Balboa Park. The Planned Parenthood Association of San Diego was born.
I feel that there is no issue as universal on this earth, and yet so intimately personal, than sexuality and parenthood.
While attending the University of Washington in 1969, a guest lecturer from the local Planned Parenthood inspired Mark Salo to become a volunteer. Not long after becoming a volunteer receptionist, he became a pregnancy counselor for the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Seattle, Washington.
Mark quickly became passionate about the mission of Planned Parenthood. It was also around this time that legalizing abortion became a raging political battle. Mark truly believed that the next civil rights struggle would be around reproductive rights.
In 1970 Mark was hired as the Education Director for Planned Parenthood in Yakima, Washington. Two years later, Mark accepted the position of Executive Director of Planned Parenthood in Everett, Washington.
In 1974, after being interviewed by a bell-bottomed Board of Directors in an office with beaded curtains, Mark accepted the position as Executive Director of a small Planned Parenthood affiliate in Southern California. Mark was immediately impressed with the strong volunteer commitment and credits the success of the affiliate to those volunteers' support and dedication.
Almost immediately, Mark worked with the community to purchase a permanent headquarters for the affiliate, and in 1976, Planned Parenthood of San Diego moved to its new home at 2100 Fifth Avenue.
The 1980s brought even more growth as the affiliate began offering services (including abortion services) in Riverside County and launched a binational effort to expand family planning services with Mexfam, our neighbor across the border.
Mark always saw the need to protect a woman's right to determine her own reproductive future. So in 1991, the affiliate created the Action Fund, the political arm of the organization. Throughout the 1990s, the affiliate won significant legal battles and installed state-of-the-art security systems in the centers, providing a safe environment for patients, contract physicians, and staff.
Mark Salo retired as CEO of Planned Parenthood of San Diego & Riverside Counties in 2006, after 32 years of leading the organization. He now spends his time in Australia, enjoying his grandchildren and his many hobbies.
In 1988 Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest (then Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties) began a binational partnership with Mexfam (the Planned Parenthood equivalent in Mexico), based in Mexico City. This joint venture between two successful organizations addressed the lack of available family planning and reproductive health care services in the Mexican border town of Tijuana. By combining Mexfam's successful delivery service model of peer-to-peer outreach and education provided by Promotoras, and Planned Parenthood's funding and technical support, the partnership was able to provide complimentary medical services in this fast-growing region on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The goal of this organization, now called Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud, is to empower the women and men of Tijuana to manage their reproductive health and the health and well-being of their families. The outreach and education provided by the Promotoras is tailored to people in their communities (the colonias in and around Tijuana) and workplaces (the maquiladoras, or factories), and to students in local schools and universities.
Today, strategically located clinics and mobile clinic services provide more than just reproductive health care. General health care for the entire family is available, including pediatric care, eye and dental exams, management of diabetes, and immunizations.
Abortion has been legal in California, under limited circumstances, since 1967. In 1973 abortion became legal in the United States as a result of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. Planned Parenthood of San Diego & Riverside Counties (PPSDRC) started offering abortion services in 1988. By 1999, only 22% of medical schools nationwide provided abortion procedure training. Physicians who offered abortion services were generally older than their peers who did not; a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that more than half of abortion providers were over the age of 50, a trend called the "graying of abortion providers."
Mark Salo, then-President & CEO of PPSDRC, felt that if there were no doctors willing and able to provide abortions, the right to choose would be meaningless. As a result, PPSDRC launched the Residency Training Program to train UCSD Medical School residents and U.S. Navy Reproductive Medicine residents. UCSD Medical School residents were receiving minimal exposure to abortion procedures, in spite of abortion being one of the most common surgical procedures provided in the United States. The Naval Hospital did not provide abortion training to their residents, since abortion was not and currently is not a benefit of U.S. military health care.
Each year 25-30 residents receive training from PPPSW that includes abortion delivery, the management of spontaneous abortion, fetal demise, and ectopic pregnancy, along with basic reproductive medical care.
After an extensive nationwide search, the Board of Directors was unanimous in their selection of Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson as President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, a role she accepted in early 2006.
Prior to coming to San Diego, Darrah was the president of the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Trenton, New Jersey, where she began her career as a community educator. Her educational background consists of degrees in elementary education and psychology with an advanced degree in counseling. Before working at Planned Parenthood, Darrah began was an elementary education teacher primarily working with disadvantaged children in urban settings. It was through that experience that she gained firsthand knowledge of the critical importance that all children need to be loved and nurtured.
Since starting her position, Darrah has led several important transformations for the affiliate, improving financial stability and business practices, making medical care more efficient, implementing electronic medical records, launching services in Imperial County, and overseeing the affiliate’s name change to Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.