Ellen Fairchild died on May 24th at the age of 95. Fairchild was a former director of Planned Parenthood Syracuse, which eventually became Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region — us.
But Fairchild wasn't just an organizational leader who will be missed. She was responsible for opening the nation’s first legal abortion clinic -- boldly enough, within hours abortion becoming legal in New York State in 1970.
Ellen Fairchild, who oversaw Syracuse’s Planned Parenthood when it opened the nation’s first legal abortion clinic in 1970, died Saturday at age 95.A statement from PPRSR added:
“She exemplified the traits of leadership, community spirit, energy, dedication and perseverance in her efforts to ensure that every child was wanted and loved,” said Betty DeFazio, speaking for Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region.
Fairchild was predeceased by her husband, Dr. Robert D. Fairchild, a Syracuse surgeon. She is survived by the couple’s five children. Funeral arrangements are private.
Fairchild directed Syracuse’s Planned Parenthood from 1966 to 1978. An award in Fairchild’s name recognizes Planned Parenthood employees, volunteers, donors or supporters.
She previously taught at Syracuse University, where she earned a doctorate in educational psychology. She also was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
In 1968, Dr. Fairchild established the “Sex Education Center” at Planned Parenthood in Syracuse complete with a meeting room and library of resources because she understood that people needed information and knowledge to make responsible decisions. In the 1970 annual report, she noted that the number of contraception patients had doubled that year. This was partially attributed to the increased education programming offered.
She supported the Planned Parenthood Board of Directors’ action to adopt the “Freedom of Choice” statement in January 1970 which said, “We believe that while all people should recognize the great responsibility they assume when they become parents, no one should be forced to use contraception or undergo sterilization or abortion.” That same belief still guides the organization today.
Dr. Fairchild recognized that men needed to be involved in prevention of unintended pregnancy with their partners. As a result, Planned Parenthood of Syracuse introduced vasectomy services upon receipt of approval from the NYS Health Department in April 1971. Later, as others in the community expanded availability of sterilization services, continuation of the service was not required.
Her legacy lives on. On March 4, 2002, a premiere showing of the fifth version of “Hope Is Not A Method” (originally produced in under her leadership in 1971) demonstrated the film’s reputation among health teachers and staff at family planning clinics as being the classic film for teenagers and young adults on the subject of contraception. It remains an important family planning educational tool for teens across the country.
Fairchild leaves behind an important legacy that should be valued by anyone who believes in reproductive rights. She was a crusader for women and a strong believer that families are most healthy when they are planned, when children are wanted, and when women have the ability to make their own reproductive choices. These are principles that still drive PPRSR's work today.