In an effort to join national groups protesting Planned Parenthood, a small Fresno group stood across the street from the Fulton Street clinic on Saturday. But their protest was quickly drowned out by a larger, and louder, crowd of clinic supporters.
John Gerardi, 29, was there to protest against Planned Parenthood as the executive director of Right to Life of Central California, a nonprofit whose purpose is to “restore societal respect” for all human beings from fertilization until death, according to its website.
Gerardi said he showed up about 8 a.m. with nearly one dozen friends and church members to stand against the clinic he believes is “chiefly an abortion provider.”
He acknowledged that the clinic provides services other than abortions, but said he wanted to present two main points in his stance against Planned Parenthood — he doesn’t think any taxpayer money should fund the clinic, and he believes the clinic has a bad record of reporting statutory rape.
“Our goal is not to leave women high and dry. Our goal is to divest the money to organizations that would use it better,” Gerardi said. “We say essentially Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider.”
Gerardi said he wants the federal government to defund the clinic and believes it will. He said he wants the money to be sent to clinics that offer prenatal and postnatal care, but do not provide abortions.
“I believe that abortion is morally wrong, so insofar as I think abortion is wrong, I don’t think abortion clinics should be there,” he said.
Federal dollars don’t pay for abortions, but the organization is reimbursed by Medicaid for other services, including birth control and cancer screening. Anti-abortion conservatives have long tried to cut Planned Parenthood funds, arguing that the reimbursements help subsidize abortions.
Planned Parenthood says it performed 324,000 abortions in 2014, the most recent year tallied, but the vast majority of women seek out contraception, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, or other services including cancer screenings.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says defunding plans would cut roughly $400 million in Medicaid money from the group in the year after enactment and would result in roughly 400,000 women losing access to care.
Meanwhile, a crowd of Planned Parenthood supporters cheered outside the clinic while holding signs calling for the right to choose. Cars that passed by honked in a show of support. Following a short prayer, the anti-Planned Parenthood protesters left the sidewalk and it was quickly overrun by clinic supporters.
One woman pacing back and forth with a sign that read “Planned Parenthood helped me” said she was there because she has always supported the clinic and was helped by it when she feared she was pregnant at a young age. Wendy Johnson, 55, from Sanger, explained why she came to support the clinic.
“Bill Clinton said that abortion needs to be safe, legal and rare,” Johnson recalled. “The way you keep it rare is you have to have birth control readily available, affordable and with no stigma so that people don’t have to resort to abortion.”
Sarah Hutchinson, 31, who organized the rally in support of Planned Parenthood, said the clinic provides services to those who need it most, which usually are low-income women and women of color.
Hutchinson, senior policy director of ACT for Girls and Women in Visalia, added that if everyone had “comprehensive” health care, then the discussion over what services clinics provide would not be an issue.
“If we allowed women and all people to have autonomy over their own bodies, then my body and women’s bodies wouldn’t be political,” she said.
Several women wore pink “Pussy Hats,” like the ones worn by those who participated in women’s marches in January. The crowd of Planned Parenthood supporters included several people who were part of the “Fresno Women United” group and others who were there as part of the “Fresno Resistance” group.
Hutchinson said both groups were created in response to actions by President Donald Trump. She said the resistance group focuses on LGBTQ, environmental, immigrant and reproductive rights.
Hutchinson said the political controversy lies mostly in the name of the clinic.
“It is a political name: Planned Parenthood. People don’t like them,” she said. “But there are clinics in Fresno that do exactly what Planned Parenthood does and they don’t get targeted, because they don’t have the name.”