Paulette McElwain, 38 

President and Chief Executive of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood

Running the Richmond chapter of Planned Parenthood has never been an easy job. But this year it got a whole lot tougher.

First, Congress withdrew federal funding for Planned Parenthood nationwide (the local chapter receives no federal money). Then in September, the Virginia Board of Health approved new state regulations that will require first-trimester abortion clinics to meet the same facility standards as hospitals — a dramatic change that critics say was more political than medical.

Paulette McElwain calmly piloted the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood through these turbulent waters. The first thing she did when she became president was find a new home for the Richmond clinic, then a dim bunker on Floyd Avenue. Five years and $4.6 million later, Planned Parenthood occupies a big, bright medical building on Hamilton Street that’s designed to meet the new state standards.

Abortion is the topic everyone wants to talk about, McElwain says, but it accounts for 15 percent of the services her chapter provides. In the last two years the nonprofit has become a primary-care provider, offering low-cost medical care to thousands of young, uninsured women. Patient visits have tripled in the last seven years.

One new focus is reducing the city’s “crazy-high rate” of rapid-repeat unintended pregnancies, McElwain says, by providing women with contraception. “We really want to help women plan their families and plan their future,” McElwain says.

McElwain is a respected nonprofit leader in Richmond, having worked for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Virginia and the Christian Children’s Fund, now ChildFund International. She also serves on the board of lobbying and advocacy group Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.


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