Lookout: I am the new CEO at Santa Cruz Community Health and we have much work ahead

Lookout: I am the new CEO at Santa Cruz Community Health and we have much work ahead

From Community Voices: Roe v. Wade – decided 51 years ago, overturned 17 months ago


Fifty-one years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court protected a woman’s constitutional right to choose with its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

It is no coincidence that Santa Cruz Community Health (SCCH) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Our organization and many like it were founded following the legalization of abortion under the constitutional right to privacy.

SCCH began as the Women’s Health Collective and launched the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center in downtown Santa Cruz in 1974. Our organization is rooted in the feminist values of social, political and economic equality – in addition to promoting good health.

As I step into my new role as chief executive officer of SCCH, I take a meaningful pause on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to reflect on the current erosion of women’s autonomy to exercise free will and self-determination in choosing the number and spacing of their family. 

I do this 17 months after the Supreme Court’s stunning ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade on the grounds that the substantive right to abortion was not “deeply rooted in this nation’s history or tradition.” 

So much of the progress SCCH’s “Founding Mothers” advocated for a half-century ago has been lost since the ruling, which effectively deflected decisions to states.

Now, over half of U.S. states restrict or ban abortion. While the efforts of a handful of states trying to restrict or ban abortion have been temporarily blocked, the legal battles continue.

Soon, the Supreme Court will rule on whether a longstanding drug, mifepristone, used in medical abortions, will be allowed. There are other lawsuits that fight restrictions against women who travel out of state for an abortion, as well as those allowing medically necessary abortions during miscarriages. The list and the efforts go on and on.

Thankfully, California is a state that is expanding access to abortion. Santa Cruz Community Health, with our deep history of feminist values and meeting the health needs of women, continues to strongly support a woman’s right to choose. We are expanding, not restricting, access to reproductive health care.

Over the years, SCCH has served many thousands of patients, offering social, emotional and medical support – everything from well checks, prenatal care and chronic disease management, to behavioral health support for intimate-partner violence, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

I have spent my entire career working in community health. I began as a volunteer at the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center when I was a student at UC Santa Cruz. The experiences I had working at the Women’s Health Center made a deep impression on me. Their extensive volunteer training program led me to pursue a career in community health, where I enjoy championing the health and well-being of all people. I’m proud to have helped community health centers implement sexual and reproductive health and maternal and child health services, such as California’s Family PACT and the Comprehensive Perinatal Services Program, as well as Title X (10), the federal family planning program. Women and all people deserve access to health care that enables them to realize their hopes and dreams.

During our five decades of service, SCCH has grown to meet the needs of the whole family, providing comprehensive primary care, behavioral health and complementary medicine at three clinic locations. We offer specialized services for over 2,000 people who are unhoused. We’ve expanded to serve all genders, created a groundbreaking model for delivery of care in collaboration with Dientes and MidPen Housing, opened a clinic in the San Lorenzo Valley, and have behavioral health providers in schools to support student wellness.  

As SCCH celebrates its 50th year, our commitment to providing health care to everyone, regardless of circumstance, based on the best of what science and human compassion dictate, is stronger than ever. 

Anita Aguirre is the CEO of Santa Cruz Community Health.