Dueling protests to take place at Planned Parenthood in San Luis Obispo

Planned Parenthood office in San Luis Obispo.
Planned Parenthood office in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Dueling rallies at Planned Parenthood in San Luis Obispo are scheduled for Saturday morning to coincide with demonstrations planned nationwide by a group called Protest PP that’s calling for the federal government to defund the nonprofit health care organization.

A local Protest PP anti-abortion group plans to stand across the street from the Planned Parenthood clinic on Pismo Street, holding graphic signs in support of defunding an organization they see as corrupt.

In response, hundreds of Planned Parenthood supporters are expected to gather at Emerson Park and take turns walking to the clinic to stand in silent solidarity with the center they say provides critical health care to men and women.

Both sides said they intend to avoid conflict. Local staff don’t expect services to be disrupted, and employees are trained on how to respond to protests.

The Protest PP movement comes after Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan in January announced a plan to strip the health care agency of all federal funding through legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act. The plan would prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Medicaid reimbursements for health care services and resources.

Cutting off Medicaid — called Medi-Cal in California — would threaten a wide range of services, said Jenna Tosh, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood California Central Coast.

“The vast majority of those services are high-quality preventative care, including birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and cancer screening for breast and cervical cancer,” Tosh said. “We also provide other essential health screenings like blood pressure and pregnancy counseling.”

“None of those reimbursements are for abortion. There is no federal money for abortion services,” she said.

Along the Central Coast, five Planned Parenthood clinics serve more than 35,000 patients a year, Tosh said. More than 70 percent of the funding for those clinics comes from Medi-Cal reimbursements. Medi-Cal leverages federal funds with state funds at a 9 to 1 ratio, meaning for every dollar received through Medi-Cal, 90 cents is federal money.

Without that funding, Planned Parenthood could be forced to cut staff or reduce hours or days the clinics are open.

We’re looking at all our options to keep our clinics open. If we don’t have the resources, we might have to reduce access,” Tosh said. “We couldn’t provide the services that we do if we weren’t participating in the Medicaid program.”

“We’re gearing up for a fight,” she said. “There is a lot on the line.”

Teresa Marsano of Paso Robles plans to be among the demonstrators calling for defunding Planned Parenthood. Marsano has participated in regular prayer rallies at Planned Parenthood in San Luis Obispo County for 27 years. Her goal working with Californians for Life is to “close abortion clinics in California,” and she is hopeful the Trump administration will help that happen.

“When the funds are removed, Planned Parenthood will start closing,” she said. “It will show that they’re not about health care. They are about the money.”

Hundreds of Planned Parenthood supporters, including U.S. Congressman Salud Carbajal, plan to gather at Emerson Park from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and walk in coordinated shifts to stand on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood.

Rally organizer Robyn Berry of San Luis Obispo said she feels strongly about supporting the nonprofit because it helped her when she was young and needed somewhere to go for health care.

“Our main focus is just to support Planned Parenthood and let our congressman and senators know that we want our Planned Parenthood funded,” she said.

Berry said she stumbled into the role of organizer and is in “complete shock” at the response. After the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo on Jan. 21 that drew as many as 10,000 participants, Berry said she was looking for ways to continue her newfound activism. In her search, she accidentally landed on the Protest PP website and saw a local protest was planned.

She decided to mount a counterprotest. She and a few friends posted their event online and by the next morning, 300 people had signed up. On Friday, more than 800 said they will be at the event to support Planned Parenthood.