Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Imperial County Remains Divided Over Planned Parenthood Clinic

Jesus Barros, a frequent Planned Parenthood protester, shown on May 23, 2016.
Nic McVicker
Jesus Barros, a frequent Planned Parenthood protester, shown on May 23, 2016.
Imperial County Remains Divided Over Planned Parenthood Clinic
Imperial County Remains Divided Over Planned Parenthood Clinic
One year after it opened, Imperial County's only Planned Parenthood clinic remains dogged by protesters and shunned by much of the religious community.
Imperial County Remains Divided Over Planned Parenthood Clinic
Imperial County Remains Divided Over Planned Parenthood Clinic GUEST:Kenny Goldberg, reporter, KPBS

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I Maureen Cavanaugh. California is one of the most liberal states when it comes to access to birth control and abortion. But you would not know it in Imperial County where religious groups tried unsuccessfully to prevent the regions first Planned Parenthood clinic from opening last year. Kenny bow -- Goldberg recently that is -- visited the clinic and gave this update. Every other Monday morning in El Centro there are two things you can count on. The plant parenthood clinic will open at 7:30 and protesters will be on the scene. Jesus borrows hangs out in the parking lot next to the clinic and tries to talk to women who are heading into have abortions Good morning. Good morning. Sometimes borrows has to settle to speaking to husbands or boyfriends either way he doesn't want to hear about a woman's right to choose. There is another side of the story. What about the baby? Who is speaking up for the baby? Do you think the baby wants to live? The way Paros see that women just are not properly educated. It all starts with education. We need to teach what sex really is. Planned Parenthood will promote sex because there is no money promoting to have no sex. There is no money in that. The money is contraceptives. If you're pregnant there is always abortion. Which is a big money. That is where they really make the money. Clinic manager Vivian parents could says thatuse a little education himself. All of its services including abortions and birth control are provided whether the patient has any money or not. Perez says she respects protesters opinions but, if they were really concerned about reducing unwanted pregnancies they would help us provide special education. Our focus is not on the protesters but more of the safety and security of our patients. Planned Parenthood opened in May Planned Parenthood opened in May 2015 but it was not exactly welcome with open arms. The Imperial Valley's evangelical community led the opposition to the plan parenthood clinic last year and they remain staunchly opposed to it but there is one religious leader in town that has a different view. This is the sanctuary. And we really try to make a sanctuary -- a safe place. Reverend. Ron Griffin is the lead pastor at El Centro's first Methodist Church. Griffin says he understands why most of the religious community opposes the clinic that he says demonizing women who have abortions or use birth control is mean spirited and counterproductive. Those sites have important things to say so let's address it that way rather than creating this false idea that it is us versus them. What your fellow religious leaders say about that testament they don't really talk to me very much. The protests and opposition are not stopping Planned Parenthood and they have not prevented more than 2000 people from for coming in for care. Community college student you Linda Garcia gets her birth control pills at the clinic. She remembers one recent visit when a protester got right in her face. This lady came up to me with a big poster of the Virgin Mary and said you need help? I can help you. I felt judged like she thought I was getting an abortion when in reality I was just getting a regular checkup. I told her no I was okay. And she just kept insisting to help me. Clinic manager Perez just shrugs her shoulder. When you get down to it all Planned Parenthood is doing is dividing access to care. No religion, no politics, just healthcare. Joining me now is Kenny Goldberg. Hello candy. Hello Maureen. Can you remind us how intense the debate was against the planned parenthood clinic in Imperial County? It was very intense. The opposition was primarily made up of the evangelical Christian community in Imperial County which is very well organized and very prominent and they first tried to prevent the main hospital there from signing a transfer agreement with the Planned Parenthood credit -- clinic. Transfer agreement are very perfunctory. They are set up between medical clinics and hospitals that allow the clinic if a patient has complications to transfer the patient in the medical records to a hospital and they first tried to prevent the hospital from signing such agreement. The hospital found it had no legal grounds to do so, so after that, the evangelical Christian community tried another tactic which was to try to get the clinic designated as an outpatient surgery center which would have meant that the clinic would have had to do massive upgrades and extensive refitting and all that kind of thing and Planned Parenthood sued at that point and that was the linchpin to making the whole thing open and Planned Parenthood finally opened last spring. Now access to clinic that perform abortions is becoming a problem in white areas of the United States. Is that also the case in Imperial County? It is the case. Planned Parenthood is the first reproductive health clinic in Imperial County. It is the only clinic that provides abortions in a pretty wide area which includes all the way out to the Arizona border and of course in Mexicali in northern Mexico. Also there is a dearth of opportunities for people to get contraceptives and other things from other clinics because there is just a limited number of medical providers in the area. Now in your report, Kenny, you introduced us to Raven Ron Griffin. He is supporting Planned Parenthood. It sounds as if he is one of the loan clerical figures in that area that actually is giving any support to Planned Parenthood. That is right. And in the middle of the controversy last year before the clinic opened, he wrote a couple of editorials in the local paper saying that, hey everybody, let's calm down a little bit and see if we can find some common ground. When we spoke to him a couple weeks ago he said exactly that. He said, look both sides proponents have bad days have valid points. Let's talk about things instead of demonizing the other side. Instead of separating it into us and them. It is completely counterproductive and he was advocating for that position then and he still is now and he also told me that none of the other religious leaders really talk to him very much. Now it seems that in spite of the continuing protests and as you told us in your report, those protest do continue about every day, the plan parenthood clinic in Imperial County -- is it doing well? Well they serve more than 2000 people since the clinic opened last May a year ago last May that is. And that seems to be a fairly good volume considering the fact when you think about it, that there was no place a lot of these people could go to get care what you have to understand in Imperial County -- it is a very small community and everybody knows everybody and I am told that one of the sensitivities there is -- is 70 goes in for reproductive health care, they would don't want somebody's neighbors seeing them to tell their mother who tell somebody else so it is sort of a very small community and they like the anonymity and the wide array of services that Planned Parenthood office -- offers. Kenny, thank you. Thank you.

Every other Monday morning in El Centro, there are two things you can count on: The Planned Parenthood clinic will open at 7:30, and protesters will be on the scene.

Jesus Barros hangs out in the parking lot next to the clinic, and tries to talk to women who are heading in to have abortions.

“Morning … morning ... good morning," he calls out in vain.

Sometimes Barros has to settle for speaking to husbands or boyfriends. Either way, Barros doesn’t want to hear about a woman’s right to choose.

“We always reflect that it’s the mother’s body, and all this," Barros said. "But there’s the other side of the story. What about the baby? Who’s speaking up for the baby? Do you think the baby wants to live?”

Protester: Women need proper education

The way Barros sees it, women just aren’t properly educated.

“It all starts at education. We need to teach what sex really is," Barros said. "Planned Parenthood’s gonna promote sex, because there’s no money promoting ‘Have no sex.’ There’s absolutely no money in that. The money is in contraceptives, but then if you’re pregnant, there’s always abortion, which is the bigger money. That’s where they really seek to make their money, in abortions.”

Inside the Planned Parenthood building, clinic Manager Vivian Perez said Barros could use a little education himself.

She pointed out that Planned Parenthood is not in El Centro to make a profit. All of its services, including abortions and birth control, are provided whether the patient has any money or not.

Perez said she respects protesters’ rights to express their opinions.

“If they were really, truly concerned about reducing unintended pregnancies, they would work with us, to provide birth control, to provide sexual health education," she said. "And quite honestly, our focus is not on the protesters, but more on the safety and security of our patients.”

El Centro’s Planned Parenthood clinic opened in May 2015, but it wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

Imperial Valley’s evangelical community led the opposition to the Planned Parenthood clinic last year, and they remain staunchly opposed to it. But there’s one religious leader in town who has a different view.

Church leader stands alone

“So this is the sanctuary. And we really try to make it a sanctuary, you know, a safe place,” said the Rev. Ron Griffen, lead pastor at El Centro’s First United Methodist Church. He likes to show visitors the building where his congregation gathers every week.

The Rev. Ron Griffen, lead pastor at First Methodist church of El Centro, shown on May 23, 2016.
Nic McVicker
The Rev. Ron Griffen, lead pastor at First Methodist church of El Centro, shown on May 23, 2016.

Griffen says he understands why most of the religious community opposes the clinic. But he believes demonizing women who have abortions or use birth control is mean-spirited and counterproductive.

“Both sides have important things to say," Griffen said. "So let’s address it that way, rather than creating this false idea that it’s us versus them.”

And what do his fellow religious leaders in Imperial County have to say about that?

"They don’t really talk to me very much," Griffen said.

The protests and opposition aren’t stopping Planned Parenthood. And they haven’t prevented more than 2,000 people from coming in for care.

Imperial Valley College student Yulinda Garza gets her birth control pills at the clinic. Garza remembers one recent visit when a protester got right in her face.

Yulinda Garza, a community college student and Planned Parenthood patient, shown on May 23, 2016.
Nic McVicker
Yulinda Garza, a community college student and Planned Parenthood patient, shown on May 23, 2016.

“This lady came up to me with a big poster of the Virgin Mary, and she said, ‘Do you need help, I can help you,'" Garza recalled. "And I felt kind of judged, like if she thought I was getting an abortion or something, when in reality, I was just getting my regular checkup, just to make sure things were fine. And you know, I told her, 'no, it’s OK.' And she kept persisting to help me, and I’m like, 'I’m fine, I don’t need help. There’s nothing wrong with me.'”

What it's all about

Clinic manager Perez just shrugs her shoulders. She says when you get right down to it, all Planned Parenthood is doing is just providing access to care.

“No religion. No politics. No nothing," she said. "Just health care.”