Sidewalk standoff in South LA over abortion

By Jerome Campbell

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

imageAnti-abortion protesters outside the Her Medical Clinic at Figueroa and West Adams.

Thirty-six inches. This is the distance between pro-life and pro-choice on Figueroa Street.

On one side, a group of people kneel on a broken sidewalk, sliding rosary beads through their fingers as they call for divine action. And across the sidewalk, another group stands silently; dressed in bright orange vests and black sunglasses. They escort patients into the clinic. Both sides stay on their sides without budging an inch, unless someone tests the boundaries.

“On the good days it’s really boring and we just get to hang out and some of us have become friends. On the not so good days, protesters can become aggressive and on those days we have to call the police,” said Mary-Beth Blakey. She says the anti-abortion group members can be even more aggressive with patients. Following patients out of the clinic and even trying to get into their cars.

“I have seen patients become visibly upset. I have seen patients become so upset that they have rescheduled their appointment,” she said.

And their tactics become more aggressive during Christmas.

imageEscorts for patients at the clinic.

“They try to enter the doors and rush the clinic, singing Christmas carols and delivering gifts to patients; but the gifts are filled with very shaming and misleading anti-abortion literature and baby gifts like booties and baby bottles,” she said.

But according to Dennis Rudmin who prays on the sidewalk, this tension is a two-way street. He says that the group has to come in large numbers to stand any chance on the sidewalk.

“They just try to harass us. They come over and stand in front of you or take your place to lead the rosary, or they follow after you and say things like ‘I’m stalking you,’” Rudmin said.

The close quarters of the sidewalk definitely makes the experience unpleasant. Yet, they continue to deal with the same people every week, sometimes more than their own friends.

“I think I’ve seen mark more than I’ve seen my best friend in the past three years. More than my family,” said Blakey.

And over time, both sides have grown to understand each other.

image“I think some of them are very well intentioned and have their very own personal, spiritual reasons for thinking that for them praying here will have some positive impact. I have no problem with that,” said Blakey.

“We’re not there to get into any type of confrontation. We’re there to pray for these children. And pray for the clinic people too, the pro-abortion people. The people who are harassing us,” Rudmin said.

One woman, who would have walked into the clinic years ago has crossed the sidewalk to pray on the curb. Maria Garanza has had not just one abortion, and then, several more after.

“I’ve had five abortions.” And she regrets her choice every day. “I feel like I killed my babies, I killed five babies. I killed my babies and I think Maria killed her own babies,” said Garanza.

Garanza had her last abortion in 2001 and the distress almost led her to take her life.

“I screamed very loud to myself and I said to Jesus forgive and I know that I killed my baby but I want to save babies. I promise if you forgive. I’ll promise that I’ll go everywhere to save babies,” Garanza said.

A promise that has led her to praying in front of this clinic. Garanza says she has already saved three babies but she wants to save more.

“I’m happy I’m here because I’m doing something,” Garanza said. “I want to see five babies because I killed five babies.”

And so Garanza and her group continue to kneel on the sidewalk and the clinic group waits for the next patient. Neither side knows if they are changing any minds, but they know they will be out next weekend.

Planned Parenthood urges people in South LA to use free clinics

imageCommunity health clinics have been invaluable to people who are finding themselves unemployed and without health insurance. Planned Parenthood has been providing healthcare services 1916. Today, Planned Parenthood provides affordable access to reproductive health care and sexual health education to more than 125,000 people in Los Angeles County.

According to the most recent STD Morbidity Report for Los Angeles County, South Los Angeles has the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the county. Approximately a quarter of all chlamydia and gonorrhea infections in LA County were diagnosed in South Los Angeles.

“That is a really disturbing statistic,” said Serena Josel, Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA). Black and Latina women aged 15-24 are the most affected. Josel says that public health data shows that often women of color don’t have adequate insurance, making healthcare a real issue. Those living from paycheck to paycheck “might not realize the expense of going to the doctor for an annual exam is an important expense,” said Josel.

Reproductive health does not always need to be an expense, either. Planned Parenthood and other health centers provide free services. The Los Angeles County STD Program provides free gonorrhea and chlamydia at-home testing kits for women. Patients can order the test kits online, mail them back to the clinic, and receive their results with in a week. The STD program hopes this will help diagnose those who may be too embarrassed to come into a clinic in-person. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, which accounts for more than 95% of the STDs in LA County, are treatable diseases. If left untreated, they “can lead to much more serious health complications–including infertility,” said Josel.

Planned Parenthood also provides preventive education at local schools and community centers. Josel says their education department helps educate over 75,000 teens and their families each year.

“We aren’t just focused on teens, but we also work with parents to make sure they have the tools to start those difficult conversations with their children,” she said.
Josel hopes that grassroots outreach and simple word-of-mouth will also help inform people.

“I think its really important for people to talk about their experience with Planned Parenthood and with health care overall,” said Josel. “We have a long way to go in reducing the shame and stigma that’s attached to basically just taking care of yourself.”

To find out more about the free at-home STD Kit and how to get one, click here.

Planned Parenthood Centers in South Los Angeles:

3637 S. La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90016
400 W. 30th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007
8520 So. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90003

To request an appointment at any Planned Parenthood Los Angeles health center please visit or call 1-800-576-5544.

OPINION: Planned Parenthood and the Rape of American Women

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a senior fellow with the Institute for Humanist Studies. Become a fan of Blackfemlens on Facebook.

imageLately, the sound of galloping hooves and rustling white sheets has risen in a deafening squall from the Capitol. Like their Klan ancestors, elite white males in Congress’ political lynch mob are once again savaging communities of color. The House’s vote to gut Planned Parenthood is a criminal act against poor and working class women and their families. In many rural and urban neighborhoods there are few affordable alternatives to the health care provided by Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights service providers. These clinics are the frontline of preventive care in poor working class white communities and communities of color, providing pregnancy and STD testing, contraception, pap smears, abortions, and counseling for families with little to no health coverage.

Ever since its midterm elections’ sweep, the far right has ramped up its unrelenting drive to theocracy, using reproductive rights as its battleground. Drawing on the sabotage of ACORN, Speaker John Boehner and a host of other GOP and so-called Blue Dog Democrat fascists are bound and determined to take down Planned Parenthood. Extending Hyde Amendment restrictions on federal funding for abortions to private providers is central to their agenda. Too spineless to criminalize women who seek abortions outright, Religious Right politicians instead choose to pillage health care provisions that keep women from falling deeper into poverty, illness, and economic dependence. Hiding behind Orwellian claims of being pro-life, far right politicians exercise draconian control over the bodies of poor women and their families in the name of God, guns, and bloody fetuses. Why not just jail ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out?

It should be no revelation that when poor women are denied access to decent affordable reproductive care—including access to safe abortions—families and communities suffer. While federal and state governments dismantle education and health care funding, the American military regime goes untouched. Because black and Latino communities are on the frontlines of imperialist military recruitment and educational inequity, few people of color would argue that government handouts to the military industrial complex should trump education funding. However, reproductive justice just doesn’t have the same political cache or urgency amongst progressives of color. Consequently, conservative reactionary forces within the African American community have successfully allied with the Religious Right in a revived anti-abortion billboard campaign targeting black women. This propaganda has cropped up recently in black and Latino Southern California neighborhoods. By implying that aborting black babies makes them an “endangered species,” these billboards evoke plantation era regimes of social control.

In essence, bad “genocidal” black women don’t know their place, don’t know that they were put here to be God’s sacrificial vessels and don’t seem to grasp that only evil promiscuous misguided Jezebels get knocked up. They also haven’t gotten Sarah Palin’s “telegram” that women who are forced to have unwanted children will earn more, achieve higher education levels, and have a markedly better quality of life than women who aren’t. These ignorant bad black women destroy black communities with their arrogant self-absorption and unchecked sexual license. After all, black women who exercise control over their own bodies and destinies commit race betrayal and gender sacrilege.

How do we know these gospel truths? Powerful white male legislators, black preachers, and Christian soldiers like MLK’s anti-abortion activist niece Alveda King tell us so. They tell us that abortion is the greatest civil rights threat of our era. Like their Islamic fundamentalist comrades in the Middle East, these pro-death marauders know all too well that female sexuality is a dangerous commodity which only the jackboot of big government can control. Complicit with black hyper-religiosity and black nationalist delusions, silent progressives of color give them this license.

Read more stories from Sikivu Hutchinson:
OPINION: Heretics, Humanism, and “the Hood”
OPINION: American terror and the dehumanization of gay youth
OPINION: The Prosperity Gospel according to Eddie Long

Photo courtesy of Political Junkies