Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest to mark Golden Anniversary with gala event

K. Andrew Achterkirchen, Carolyn Colwell, Kathleen Strauss, Joan Bernstein, Elaine Hanson, Sara Moser, Nate McCay. Photo/McKenzie Images

By Diane Y. Welch

On Thursday, May 9, Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest (PPPSW) will celebrate its Golden Anniversary. The half-century milestone will be marked with the affiliate’s biggest fundraiser of the year, a gala dinner at Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

This energizing night will feature a program that celebrates PPPSW’s causes along with an opportunity to reconnect with a motivated community of friends, said Kathleen Strauss, event co-chair along with Nora Taylor Jaffe.

Dr. Katharine Sheehan, medical director for PPPSW, with over 30 years of involvement, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award and seven honorary chairs will be recognized for their generous contributions to this major affiliate of Planned Parenthood that includes San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties. There will also be a funding match to The Strauss Family Foundation’s pledge of $50,000.

Guest speakers include Sarah Weddington, attorney, professor, and women’s rights advocate, best known for successfully arguing the landmark Roe v. Wade case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973; Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Jessica Valenti, feminist author and blogger, and founder of

Bob Filner, mayor of San Diego, will speak briefly and several local elected officials will be guests. A presentation of video highlights and photographs taken over the five decades will showcase past achievements with an eye on future growth.

According to PPPSW’s website, a San Diego clergyman, visiting a parishioner in a maternity ward in 1963, was asked for advice to secure aid in family planning. When he sought out an agency to which he might refer her, he discovered there was none. Because of this experience Reverend Arthur G. Elcombe began to recruit a group who soon established Planned Parenthood of San Diego.

Sara Moser became a part of that group in 1968.

“I didn’t realize then that it was such a new organization,” she said. Her involvement was personal after she had helped two former neighbors get illegal abortions. Both married — one with three children, the other with four — they each could not afford another child. Soon after that Moser relocated to San Diego. Her move coincided with the passage of the Therapeutic Abortion Act which had been made legal in 1967. “And so I jumped right in,” Moser said.

Planned Parenthood is about helping families — and particularly women — control their fertility and have children when they want them, said Moser who reflected that it has been, “great watching Planned Parenthood grow.”

What started out as educational outreach then developed into itinerant clinics in other organizations’ locations, eventually became a permanent clinic over a furniture store on Morena Blvd. Moser, then a volunteer, provided pregnancy counseling there but soon became a staff member.

She later served on the board of directors and spearheaded raising money for Planned Parenthood’s first building on the corner of Fifth and Hawthorn in San Diego. She was also hired to run a public affairs program and helped create the Action Fund that provided political campaign funding.

Samuel Ward, a San Diego attorney — currently serving on PPPSW’s board of directors — started his involvement on the board of the Action Fund about six years ago. Prior to that he had been active in local politics and focused on Planned Parenthood’s role as a bellwether for political candidates. “If you could get Planned Parenthood’s endorsement, I knew that there were a lot of other things we would agree on. And if you didn’t, I knew that this would be the beginning of a long line of issues that we would disagree on,” Ward explained.

As Ward began to become more active in the affiliate, it gave him the opportunity to have a deeper knowledge of the services provided. “Our role in providing no-cost birth control or our role in helping to develop comprehensive sexuality education programs are just a couple of the ways that the organization contributes to our community,” he said. But more than that, PPPSW strives to fill holes in communities where there is a lack of basic reproductive services, he added. To further help fill that need and to continue to fund the 19 health care centers in the region it is hoped that last year’s record of $1 million raised will be topped at this year’s gala.

The anniversary fundraiser kicks off at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception followed by dinner.

“We hope you’ll join us for the biggest night of the year for reproductive health,” said Strauss. Tickets may be purchased online at