Hundreds of Planned Parenthood supporters rallied in Balboa Park on Friday morning (March 24) in anticipation of a congressional vote to defund the organization that was pulled from the table by Republican backers moments before the vote was to have taken place.
The proposed American Health Care Act was intended to replace provisions in the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare. One tenet of the bill would have blocked funding for groups that provide abortion services, including Planned Parenthood.
Supporters of the organization argued that federal funding had never been used to pay for abortion services, but instead to provide cancer screening and other health services to those uninsured or otherwise unable to access care. The group says it serves approximately 140,000 people, mostly women, in the region.
"When I was a broke student, when I was removed from my mom's health insurance and couldn't afford my own, Planned Parenthood was there for me," Erin Panichkul of the Coalition for Reproductive Justice told a crowd assembled at the western edge of the park, many dressed in pink shirts and waving pink signs bearing the organization's logo. "Planned Parenthood is my safe space."
Congressional staffers for Representatives Susan Davis, Juan Vargas, and Scott Peters showed up to offer support to the group and general criticism of the proposed act. Peters staffer Kiera Galloway described the bill as "an unconscionable attempt to remove health coverage for so many men and women throughout the San Diego area."
Madison Shockley, pastor at the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, said that religious beliefs regarding abortion shouldn't be a deterrent to supporting the broader goals of the organization.
"There is nothing in my faith that prevents me from standing with Planned Parenthood. In fact, my faith demands it," said Shockley, insisting that the group "serves the people that my God cares about" and was "doing sacred work."
Hours after the protest, House speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill in the face of likely defeat had a vote been called.
"I’m proud that so many Americans — including thousands of the people I represent in San Diego — made their voices heard and urged their representatives to oppose this healthcare repeal," read a portion of a jubilant release sent by Peters following the non-vote. "With this disaster of a bill dead and buried, I hope that we can get to work — together — on real reforms to make healthcare more accessible and more affordable for the American people."