Pittsburgh's People of the Year 2021: Health | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh's People of the Year 2023: Health

Planned Parenthood's Sydney Etheredge is carrying an essential torch

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CP Photos: Mars Johnson
Sydney Etheredge of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania

Sydney Etheredge has been with Planned Parenthood for over a decade, but in many ways, she’s just getting started.

“I’m very much in a new phase,” she says of her role as CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania — a position she took on in January 2022 after 10 years with the national office in Washington, D.C., and about six months before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Still, she tells Pittsburgh City Paper, “It feels like I’m here in a ‘moment,’ and I try to ask, ‘how am I seizing the moment?’”

Even before taking the reins here in Pittsburgh, the writing was on the wall in terms of Roe, so Etheredge was aware she’d have this region’s top job in reproductive rights at an incredibly fraught time.

“Honestly, though, it didn’t change my thinking about the role or being in Pennsylvania,” she tells City Paper. In fact, it spurred her on. She knew that relocating to Pittsburgh would only bolster her ability to be effective in her role.

Etheredge has a history with Pittsburgh, having studied sociology at the University of Pittsburgh before going on to obtain a master’s degree in public health from George Washington University. Her husband is also from the area and has family here. That matters to her, and allows her to “show up,” she says. 

“To do this fight and this work, you need people around who can ground you,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine doing this anywhere else.”

Over her long career with Planned Parenthood, Etheredge has had the opportunity to meet with leadership teams at a variety of affiliate offices, and one thing was unfortunately consistent: “None of them were really looking like me.” That was true in terms of race and age, she says, but also experience. “A lot of people were lawyers or advocates or in the reproductive space, and I had more of a health systems background … so I wanted to take this role to show young people in particular … young people of color, young people from marginalized communities, that there is a space in this fight for you.”

“I see how engaged they are,” Etheredge says of young Millennials and Gen Z, who she credits with accelerating the reproductive rights movement. “I want them to see that [Planned Parenthood does reflect them] and can inspire them to do this work, because that’s the only way our organization and so many like ours can continue this fight.”