A new wave of out-of-state legislation banning abortion with few exceptions triggered massive protests across the country recently, including one that drew about 400 pro-choice advocates to the steps of Pasadena City Hall. There, on the evening of May 21, proponents held signs reading “Stop the Bans,” and  “We Won’t Go Back” as they affirmed their support for  Roe V. Wade, the landmark US Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas statute against abortion as a violation of the right to privacy and due process. 

The rally was organized by Planned Parenthood of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, an 85-year-old affiliate of the New York based national nonprofit. It’s funded in part by Title X, the federal family planning grant program, and offers (besides abortion) screenings for cervical cancer and STDs, birth control pills and sex education plus a wide range of other health care services for mostly low income patients — male, female and transgender. 

Unlike other affiliates, Planned Parenthood of Pasadena has not been targeted for violence by extremist anti-abortion activists over the years, but there have been minor “trespassing” incidents, said Julianne Hines, vice president of external affairs. However, she seemed to suggest that things could change because of the new restrictive laws and a surfeit of incendiary rhetoric about abortion in the Trump era, including by the president himself.

According to the National Abortion Federation, there have been increased attacks and harassment aimed at abortion clinics nationwide following the 2016 election of once pro-choice President Trump (who falsely claimed at a Wisconsin rally in late April that both mothers and doctors can legally decide to “execute babies” after a failed abortion).

Hines made it plain that she views Alabama’s near total ban on abortion last month as “absolutely a political attack on women and their ability to get health care. And they’re doing this in defiance of the American people. Most American people support abortion. They don’t want Roe overturned,” she continued, apparently referring to national polls like one on CBS News citing 69 percent support for Roe in the US.

“Our number one concern is the safety of our patients,” Hines said. “We will continue to fight for them in the courts, in the legislatures and in the courts of public opinion.”

In addition, Hines said, both staff and patients at the two Planned Parenthood buildings on Lake Avenue will be undergoing safety training and beefing up security measures. Hines noted she has been particularly concerned about safety at Planned Parenthood of Pasadena ever since after “Colorado Springs.” She was alluding to a 2015 shootout in which a 57-year-old man with an assault rifle murdered three people and injured nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs during a five-hour gun battle with police.

Thus far, most of the pro-life protests at Planned Parenthood of Pasadena have largely been  peaceful, among them a recent “vigil” during the Lenten season by a religiously inspired anti-abortion group called 40 Days for Life, which is based in Texas.

Hines recalled only a “handful” of activists arriving on any given day and said there were no serious disruptions. “But some of our patients have complained,” she said. “They want health care, not people yelling at them. Our patients are smart and they knew these  people are there to judge them and to try and prevent them from coming to Planned Parenthood. They know they’re trying to shame them.”

Jill Davis, 68, a Pasadena anti-abortion activist who claims Planned Parenthood fosters a sexually permissive lifestyle, acknowledged undergoing “a couple of abortions” in her younger days before “being saved by Jesus” at a church. She acted as a leader of a second 40 Days vigil in front of the Planned Parenthood affiliate which ended on April 14. She said about 45 to 50 people in total showed up over the 40 days, setting up tables with literature on family issues and promotional material on the film, “Unplanned,” a box office hit based on a book by Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee turned anti-abortion activist.   

Many of Davis’ counterparts at the vigil were older women like herself, she said: “Our whole thing being there was (as) mothers, older women who have more experience and can teach younger women how to love their husbands and children. Whenever I’d see a young boy or young woman going in there (to Planned Parenthood), I’d just say hi and try to get their eye and find out what’s going on in their lives.” 

She believes her group “influenced” many Planned Parenthood patients but noted that others resisted overtures and “they threw condoms at us because it’s a controversial life and death issue.” Davis said her group did not file a report with the Pasadena Police Department, but “we did file a report of a gal in a VW who came up and shoved our table over. We have her license plate and picture, but we’re not vindictive. We want to bless her.”

Pasadena police Lt. Art Chute, who’s in charge of the department’s events/counterterrorism unit, said he hadn’t heard anything about the incidents that Davis described and noted there had been “no problems” reported  to him at the vigil by Sgt. Anthony Burgess, who was in contact with both sides of the abortion debate at Planned Parenthood of Pasadena.

California decriminalized abortion several years before Roe V. Wade and is considered by some pro-choice advocates as one of the most progressive states in the country on reproductive rights for women. “California’s law is very strong — most other states are not nearly as comprehensive,” said Elizabeth Booth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute in Washington, DC, a research organization that supports abortion. “Under California’s Medicaid program, abortion is provided in health insurance. Abortion has to be covered. That is a huge financial advantage,” she observed, noting that a “typical abortion” costs $500. 

Nationally, abortion rates have been declining in recent years. By 2014, Nash said, there were 926,000 abortions nationwide, a drop from about 1 million in 2011. She attributes the decline to increased “access to contraceptives,” including abortion medications, people delaying marriage and the “closing of (abortion) clinics” — the latter often due to hundreds of restrictive state laws passed since 1973.

In contrast, California may be getting a bold new law that will require  health centers at state public universities and colleges to offer female students abortion pills to end unwanted  pregnancies for up to the first 10 weeks and to do so by Jan. 1, 2023. But first the College Student Right to Access Act, or Senate Bill 24, introduced by State Sen. Connie Leyva and passed in the senate, has to get approved by the state Assembly and then signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year.

Leyva has been working on the bill for three years. A spokesman, Sergio Reyes, said it  does not require any campus health center to provide free abortion pills, though they are allowed to if they choose to. Each campus health center currently decides what care is offered at no cost, what care is provided for cash pay, and what insurance or government program they bill. A private funders consortium has already raised the $10,290,000 for the cost of readiness for the CSU and UC student health centers.

Leyva said in a telephone interview that she felt a sense of urgency about the bill because “women’s rights are under attack and right wing legislators across the country are emboldened by a president who wants to take women back 100 years.”