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California Protesters Cite Discredited Smear Campaign as Reason to End Health Care for Thousands

Alejandra Molina

If clinics were to shut down in Orange and San Bernardino counties, thousands of patients would be left scrambling.

The anti-choice protesters were emboldened.

They waved signs reading, “Abortion kills children,” held images of fetuses in utero, cheered as cars honked in support, and chanted “Defund Planned Parenthood!”

About 200 people, including parents and their children, students, and religious groups, gathered outside an Orange County Planned Parenthood clinic in the city of Orange, California, encouraged by a White House administration more sympathetic to preventing the national reproductive health-care organization from receiving federal funding.

The Saturday event was one of many demonstrations, dubbed #ProtestPP, held across the country to target the reproductive health-care provider. In California, protests were held in Los Angeles, El Monte, Pomona, San Bernardino, Orange, and other cities.

Among those attending was David Daleiden, an anti-choice activist who covertly recorded and edited videos to falsely claim Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donation. Federal and state investigations have found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.

Daleiden declined to speak with Rewire at the rally.

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During the Saturday protest, a number of demonstrators took photos with Daleiden and cited his videos as reasons to defund Planned Parenthood.

Carlos Reyes of Anaheim was one of them. He brought his two young daughters to the rally. Reyes said they were there to “defend life.”

Planned Parenthood in California receives about $260 million from the federal government and provides service to more than 850,000 residents a year. It has 115 clinics here.

Reproductive rights advocates say these protests are part of a continued assault on women’s access to health care. Anti-choice activists are against federal money going to the organization, despite provisions that ban federal funding for abortions. They want the funding to instead go to health centers that don’t provide abortion care. Planned Parenthood officials in California say there is no other health-care provider large enough to serve those in need.

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has banned U.S. funding to international health organizations that perform—or provide information about—abortions. By his side is Vice President Mike Pence, who opposes abortion. And House Speaker Paul Ryan has said defunding the organization will be a top priority of the new Congress.

The way anti-choice activists see it, this is their time.

“I’m Planned Parenthood’s prime target, but I’m also their worst enemy,” said Brooke Lauren Paz, with the anti-choice Students for Life campus group at California State University, Fullerton, in front of a cheering crowd. “Every day on campus, I’m on the front lines of this battle, but I can tell you, we are winning this, culturally and politically.”

At this rally, only about a handful of Planned Parenthood counter-protesters were spotted, while in other California cities like Riverside, they overshadowed anti-choice demonstrators.

One counter-protester, Stephanie, who did not feel comfortable giving her last name, held a sign declaring her support for Planned Parenthood and its patients. She said she has visited Planned Parenthood for sexually transmitted disease testing in the past, and had to confront protesters shaming her.

“It’s absolutely awful,” Stephanie said.

There did not appear to be any confrontations with patients during Saturday’s protest.

Nichole Ramirez, a spokeswoman for the Orange and San Bernardino County Planned Parenthoods, said defunding Planned Parenthood would hurt low-income patients who typically rely on its clinics for preventive care, birth control, breast exams, Pap tests, and cervical cancer screening.

Across California, about 90 percent of Planned Parenthood patients are at or below the federal poverty level and qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

“For many low-income people we serve, Planned Parenthood is their only source of health care,” Ramirez said.

And, defunding could hit certain “pro-choice” states like California the hardest, as Rewire previously reported. If Congress follows through on Ryan’s pledge to defund the organization, many of the clinics—as well as other non-Planned Parenthood offices—may be forced to shut down.

The states most at risk, in order of the amount of federal dollars received as a percentage of revenue, would likely be California; Oregon; New York; Wisconsin; Minnesota; and Washington state, said Beth Parker, chief legal counsel of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

This is because, generally, these states have favored legal interpretations that allowed Planned Parenthood to receive reimbursements for basic health care, including family planning services to low-income patients.

As a result, Planned Parenthood affiliates and other reproductive health-care providers in some pro-choice states have become reliant upon federal funding for their services, Parker told Rewire.

If clinics were to shut down in Orange and San Bernardino counties, for example, thousands of patients would be left scrambling.

“There’s no alternative health-care provider in the state that has the capacity to absorb that level of patient volume,” Ramirez said. “That would leave all of these low-income people without access to health care.”

Terry Stapleton, who oversees the Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties, said up to 2,000 patients a month go in for services at each of the nine centers in her region.

Family planning services are offered at all nine centers, while abortion services are available at two of the clinics. Primary care is also available at most of their centers.

Stapleton said many of their patients, who were newly insured through the Affordable Care Act, began going to them for other needs as well, not just for reproductive care.

“They come because they trust us. A lot of our patients have been coming to us for many, many years,” Stapleton said.

But to anti-choice activists, Planned Parenthood’s other health services are irrelevant as long as the clinics still provide abortion services.

Monica Miller, with Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, is in favor of stripping the organization of funding and shifting taxpayer dollars to health centers that do not perform abortions. She helped coordinate the nationwide protests against Planned Parenthood.

“We don’t believe that an organization that essentially discriminates against an entire people group, mainly unborn children …  should be receiving any federal support any taxpayer money,” said Miller.

“For us this is a matter of justice and a moral principle,” Miller said.

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