When the the Golden Gate Community Health Clinic on Eddy Street closed due to financial mismanagement, the Planned Parenthood at Valencia and Mission gained more than just a few extra clients. It inherited the health clinic’s protesters, too.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Ron Konopaski, 71, sets up a folding chair outside the clinic. It’s closed today, but that doesn’t matter. The retired dentist has been here every day since March 9. His duty is to ensure that at least two people are in front of the clinic at all times.
Konopaski and his fellow activists believe that abortion, even when due to rape, is an abomination to God’s plan. To them, the elements of a person begin at fertilization — a new life that no one other than God has the right to take.
“We’re trying to just give them the truth,” says Konopaski. “The Bible says some demons cannot be driven out with prayer alone. We feel that there’s demons involved in this. So with prayer and fasting it will be a lot more powerful.”
This does not make workers inside the clinic happy. Adrienne Verrilli, director of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood Shasta-Pacific, says that customers and clinic workers have complained about the activists harassing them and lingering too close to the entrance.
“They took pictures of [the workers] and put them up on a website — I don’t know where,” Verrilli says.
She and the workers have been heartened by the community’s support for the clinic. One woman brought tulips in, another arranged an impromptu demonstration on Sunday in honor of the organization. Also, the Bernal Heights Democratic Club drafted a resolution to garner support last month.
This has not dissuaded the protesters, many of whom are veterans of the abortion battles.
Take Konopaski, who on Friday settles into his chair, adoption and pro-life pamphlets in hand. He’s wearing a baseball cap and T-shirt with the slogan “40 Days for Life.” He’s participated in various anti-abortion campaigns for 15 years now, but this particular one began in Bryan, Texas, in 2004. It calls on the religious to spend Lent either fasting, praying or demonstrating against abortion.
Two decades ago, Konopaski was pro-choice. He gradually began to believe that an abortion is wrong, even when due to rape. “If someone murders a woman who’s pregnant, they’re charged with two murders,” he says. “Roe vs. Wade makes exceptions to laws protecting life.”
“Some people [abort] children because they are too expensive,” says another protester, a woman who identifies herself only as Mrs. Low. “They must know God will take care of that child one way or another.”
Low and her husband are here, she says, because they are tired of seeing government money wasted on services provided by a business that makes it easier for people to have sex without the repercussions of parenthood.
The goal is to dissuade expecting mothers from getting abortions from Planned Parenthood, and to drive the clinic into bankruptcy. Abortions are, Low says, “a money-making business.”
According to a Planned Parenthood fact sheet released last year, however, only 3 percent of the organization’s funds are used for abortion procedures, and none of those funds come from state or federal sources.
Title X is the only federal government grant for clinics such as Planned Parenthood, and the Hyde Amendment prevents these funds from being used to pay for abortions. According to the 2010 Planned Parenthood Annual Report for Northern California, Title X makes up only 19 percent of its funds. The rest are from private patient fees and contributions.
The clinic does receive grants from the state Office of Family Planning, but that pool of money does not fund abortions.
Two percent of the clinic’s clients last year received abortions. The majority of services provided were contraception, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screening.
The Valencia Street clinic currently does not provide abortions, but will begin offering the abortion pill, RU-486, in May, and surgical procedures soon after.
The fact that the facility does not yet offer abortions doesn’t seem to bother the prayer vigil participants — not even relative newcomer Tom Farnham, 53. This is his first year campaigning with 40 Days for Life. “Hello,” he says, pleasantly, as a young clinic employee approaches the door.
“Don’t talk to me,” she says.
Farnham keeps smiling. “Hello,” he says to another passerby.
“I’m so glad abortion is legal,” she rebuts.
“When you turn to God you have to take a moral inventory of yourself, and I think that is where the anger comes from,” says Farnham, who is back in the church after a five-year break.
He says he’s here because he’s appalled at how easy abortions are for women in California under the age of 18, since parental approval is not required. According to Planned Parenthood’s 2010 annual report, 6 percent of their clients are under 18.
According to the National Abortion Federation, 19 percent of abortion procedures in the country are performed on 15- to 19-year-olds. The age group with the highest number is 20- to 24-year-olds, with 33 percent.
Farnham wouldn’t consider permitting an abortion even if one of his own daughters were raped, though he says it would be a difficult choice. “What my faith tells me is no. I have to be faithful. But that would be very hard for me.”
Over half of the women who have abortions identify as evangelical Christians or Catholics, according to the federation’s 2003 data. Just another sign, to Konopaski, of the power that pro-choice dogma holds over American culture.
“What’s happened in our society where the younger generations are brainwashed because they think if they have an unexpected pregnancy, abortion or choice comes to mind?” he asks.
“What is choice? Well, it means abortion, so there really is no choice.”