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Imperial County Remains Divided Over Planned Parenthood Clinic

Reported by Nicholas Mcvicker

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


Kenny Goldberg, reporter, KPBS


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

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Nic McVicker

Jesus Barros, a frequent Planned Parenthood protester, shown on May 23, 2016.

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.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: 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.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: 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.”


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