Thousands of protesters rally to save Planned Parenthood funding in Encinitas

Roughly 2,000 protesters in Encinitas on Saturday advocated for Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit which offers abortion services that is facing scrutiny under President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress. 

The march was part of a national effort to defend the nonprofit as anti-abortion activists protested at clinics in other cities across the country Saturday.

Also of concern to protesters were several GOP leaders’ pledges to cut funding, feared loss of women’s health services if the Affordable Care Act is repealed and the president’s recent executive order to cut federal funds from international organizations that perform or promote abortion. 

“Planned Parenthood is just so crucial for women and men’s healthcare everywhere. So many people rely on it for (sexually transmitted diseases) tests, cancer screening, birth control,” said Sophia Stremel, 18, of Carlsbad. “If they defunded Planned Parenthood, many closed clinics would be in rural areas where people rely on them the most.”

Stremel organized the march with fellow 18-year-old Pacific Ridge School student Elena Scott, who noted that no federal funding goes toward abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. 

“When you’re talking about defunding Planned Parenthood, you’re not talking about defunding abortion,” Scott said. “You’re talking about defunding women’s rights to access health care.” 

Yet, Zephaniah Mel, 32 — one of four counter-protesters who attended the rally — said it didn’t matter to him as much where federal dollars went. The small group, holding a “Babies are murdered here” sign, brought plenty of jeers and insults from the marchers. “When I heard people were marching for reproductive rights — aka murdering babies — I couldn’t stay still and be quiet while the silent and defenseless are being ignored,” Mel said. 

More than 3,000 people said they were going to the march on a Facebook event page, but sheriff’s officials did not have a crowd estimate. Planned Parenthood officials said the crowd was likely 2,000 to 3,000 people.

Marchers began at Moonlight State Beach around 10:30 a.m., went up to B Street, along South Coast Highway and back to the beach before noon.For many Planned Parenthood advocates, holding signs and shouting slogans is a fairly new thing. 

Beverly Jackson, 69, of Encinitas said she last actively protested during the Vietnam War. Her first protest since then was the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration. 

“I’m thinking about my children and someday grandchildren because these aren’t little issues,” Jackson said.

Jeff Simpson, 38, of North Park said he hadn’t been involved in protesting until Trump’s election. Since then, he and his wife have gone to protests about climate change, the Affordable Care Act and the Women’s March.

Simpson said being a man didn’t mean he could not see the value of Planned Parenthood. 

“When it comes to abortion, obviously that’s a choice a woman makes,” he said. “I don’t want to see women going to back alley, black market abortions, which is what’s going to happen. It’s not like people are going to stop having abortions.”

Sarah Jensen-Elhoff, director of the Adoption Center of San Diego, said she wished Planned Parenthood put more of an emphasis on adoption when women ask for an abortion. 

“Most women think they have just two choices: to have an abortion or become a mom even if they are not really prepared,” she said in a phone interview Friday. “My focus is, women should know there is a third option as well, to choose life and to give their baby a mom and dad.” 

The center places 20 to 25 babies with families a year, Jensen-Elhoff said. 

“I know that it is legal to do an abortion, but I don’t necessarily think that that our government should be paying for it,” she said. 

At the march, Lisa Walters-Hoffert, director of Planned Parenthood for San Diego and Riverside counties, said there are counselors available to talk to pregnant women but it’s not their role to convince them what to do. 

“Our view is we don’t judge. Our patients come in and we provide the service they are requesting,” she said. 

Walters-Hoffert said Planned Parenthood provides prenatal care at some clinics for women who decide not to have abortions, or refers them to nearby community healthcare partners.

“It’s Planned Parenthood. It’s not no parenthood,” she said.

Neither side in the abortion debate said they had any other planned upcoming marches or protests but both anticipated being very active in the next year. 

Molnar is a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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