Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania (PPWP) traces its origins back to the hot summer of 1916, when a group of 35 Pittsburghers-- including doctors, civic workers, minsters, business leaders, and homemakers-- were challenged by the undeniable need for legal access to birth control information and services.
By the early 1920s, the group was focusing its energy on changing and repealing federal laws that since the 1870s had made practicing birth control illegal and limited the distribution of contraception information. In 1930, after many years of concentration solely on letter-writing and lobby visits, a board was elected and the Birth Control League—later to be named Planned Parenthood—was founded.
The Birth Control League in Pittsburgh began helping women obtain contraceptives by underwriting the cost and referring women to the few physicians who agreed to provide family planning services and information. By the end of its first year in operation, the clinic set a national record by serving 400 women.
Two years later in 1932, the League became the first in Allegheny County to offer on-site birth control services, employing one salaried physician and countless volunteers. By 1940, more than 6,000 married women had walked through the clinic’s doors in search of safe and effective methods to control their family size.
During World War II, the League tailored its services to meet the special needs of Pittsburgh women. Some board members drove factory workers to the clinic during lunch, while others arranged rides for those women unable to keep their appointments because of gas rationing.
When WWII ended, more than one million men returned home to their families. For the Birth Control League, this time meant rapid growth. The agency expanded its hours and added additional staff members and services to serve a 50% increase in patients between 1945 and 1946.
The post-war era of the late ‘40s and ‘50s brought the baby boom and the 1949 adoption of the Planned Parenthood name, which reflected the organization’s affiliation and adherence to Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) standards.
In the following years, various clinic sites were opened throughout the county, including the Sewickley clinic, which was established in 1950 and is now located in Moon Township. In 1955, thanks to a series of grants from local foundations, Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood formed its first formal education department. With its emphasis on family life education, the agency became the first to offer programs to help parents educate their children about sexuality.
In 1963, a foundation grant enabled Planned Parenthood to purchase a mobile van unit which operated with community support in six locations including Homewood-Brushton, Manchester, and McKees Rocks. As the 1960s progressed—bringing “the pill,” the “sexual revolution,” and the youth movement—Planned Parenthood began offering special “rap” or education sessions designed to meet the special needs of young people. At this time, birth control and other medical services were provided to teens only with parental permission.
In 1970, President Nixon signed into law Title X, the nation’s family planning program, which allocated federal funds to providers across the country. The program also mandated the elimination of parental consent for teens seeking contraception services and established subsidies to provide for their care.
During the 1970s, with the availability of Title X funding at its peak, Planned Parenthood found it was no longer the exclusive provider of birth control services in Pittsburgh. Within a few years, the number of local family planning provides had increased by 95%.
At this time, the agency directed its focus inward and developed ways to improve existing services and added new ones to meet changing community needs. Many of the satellite clinics were closed.
In 1971, Planned Parenthood added the first out-patient vasectomy service available in Western Pennsylvania. In 1974, just one year after the Supreme Court legalized abortion, first trimester abortion services were added. At the same time, the education component “Talking to Your Kids about Sex” was introduced and quickly became the most frequently requested program offered.
The 1980s meant economic decline in western Pennsylvania, reductions in federal funding, renewed opposition to family planning and abortion services, and the onset of AIDS.
During this time, as a result of declining federal funds, Planned Parenthood reorganized to become more self-supporting and less dependent on government subsidy. Thanks to the generous support of individual donors, corporations, and foundations, the agency was able to continue to meet community needs at a time when many other social service providers were forced to close their doors.
In response to the decline of local industry and high rates of unemployment, Planned Parenthood began offering a special medical program to unemployed women and wives of unemployed men to ensure their access to birth control and gynecologic care.
In 1985, the education department was expanded to include three full-time educators and professionals training services, and the Culberson Resource Center was opened to the public. Planned Parenthood also began HIV testing and counseling, and expanded the sexually transmitted disease clinic to provide more diagnosis and treatment services.
In 1982, a decision was made not to renew the lease for the Pittsburgh office when it expired in 1985. A real estate deal was developed involving a lease/lease back arrangement in which Planned Parenthood participated as an investor. Tremendous support was received in a capital campaign that allowed the agency to move to newly renovated office space at 209 Ninth Street in 1986. Due to a poor real estate market, the deal was renegotiated in 1990 and Planned Parenthood’s investor interest in the building was eliminated.
In 1989, Planned Parenthood began providing management services for Planned Parenthood of Cambria/Somerset (PP/C), which was established in 1975 with an office in Johnstown and added a second office in Somerset in 1978. On July 1, 1989, the two organizations formalized their affiliation. To more accurately represent its expanded service area, Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood changed its name to Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania on November 1, 1989.
The early 1990s brought significant expansion to the education department. The establishment of the grant-funded Peer Education Program allowed for the addition of several educators and the regular presence of Planned Parenthood’s services in six local schools. Nearly 200 youths participate as Planned Parenthood peer educators.
Politically, the 1990s were significant to all who support reproductive choice. Due to the threat to legal abortion, Planned Parenthood steadily increased advocacy efforts and worked with local and state-wide collations to keep abortion safe and legal in Pennsylvania. Despite these efforts, the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act was passed, requiring parental consent and a 24-hour waiting period. Court challenge prevented the enforcement of the law until 1993.
With the election of President Clinton in 1990, the health care industry began a period of rapid change as health care reform became the prominent national issue. While no federal legislation was enacted, a combination of market and cost factors moved the insurance and health care industry into the new era of managed care.
During this time, anti-choice groups continued to be a vocal and strong minority. In order to be more effective, Planned Parenthood established the Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania Action Fund, PPWPAF a 501 C (4) organization, which is allowed to engage in some electoral activity. PPWPAF published its first voter’s guide in 1992.
New birth control methods, Norplant and Depo-Provera meant services expansion during this time period. Two additional health centers were added in 1996—Turtle Creek in April and Bridgeville in December—bringing the total to six.
In 2000, PPWP entered into discussions with Women’s Health Services, the only non-profit abortion provider in Pittsburgh. After months of planning and due diligence, PPWP acquired the assets of Women’s Health Services in April 2001, re-establishing abortion services at Planned Parenthood. A new corporation was established, Planned Parenthood/Women’s Health Services (PP/WHS), which would be incorporated separately until 2006 when it would merge with PPWP.
PP/WHS was located on Fifth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, several blocks from the agency’s Ninth Street administrative office and family planning center. The PP/WHS office was temporary because it was located in an area of the city targeted for re-development. For months, PPWP searched unsuccessfully for office space and it became clear that no one was willing to rent to an abortion provider. The decision was made to buy a building that could house both downtown offices.
In September 2001, the 933 Liberty Avenue building was purchased and a $3.5 million capital campaign initiated. The building renovations were completed in two phases, with PP/WHS moving in August 2002 and the administrative and family planning office moving in November 2004. The capital campaign was finished in December 2004, with a total of $3.6 million raised for this project.
From 2000-2008, Planned Parenthood endured an extremely conservative political environment under the Presidency of George Bush. During that time, Planned Parenthood placed increased emphasis on mobilizing supporters and fending off legislative attacks. PPWP added a volunteer coordinator to manage its numerous volunteers and interns.
In 2007, PPWP adopted a new strategic plan that calls for growth of the organization’s medical, education, and public policy programs. Through organizational growth and increased community involvement, PPWP will move closer to achieving its mission of improved access to reproductive care in western Pennsylvania.
In June of 2010, we opened our seventh health center in Greensburg, and are now able to provide our life-saving health care services to the residents of Westmoreland County.
PPWP began another capital campaign in 2012 to comply with a changing health care environment. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, we will have an opportunity to serve more people, but we needed to improve our phone systems and transfer over to electronic health records. Stricter regulations for abortion providers also made a capital campaign necessary. The downtown building needed numerous renovations to comply with these new regulations. Additionally, a maintenance building fund was established to ensure the downtown building remains operable for clients.
In 2013, PPWP took on a larger role in the community. Our Certified Application Counselors (CACs) educated the community about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and helped enroll people in health insurance plans. Our CACs made great community connections for PPWP and even gained new clients for PPWP during their outreach efforts.