A rally in downtown Santa Barbara on Tuesday afternoon calling for Congress to support continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood drew hundreds of supporters, along with a handful of elected officials and community leaders.
There also was a small group of anti-abortion counter-protesters.
Messages on signs were scattered across the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Gardens, where more than 350 supporters stood outside in the muddy grass.
“Keep your religion out of my va-jay jay,” read one handmade sign, while another said: “Women’s rights are human rights.”
Amid a sea of pink pointy-eared “pussyhats” and banners, the majority of protesters in the crowd held signs reading “Don’t take away our care” and “Stand with Planned Parenthood.”
The event was organized to fight back against political attacks on reproductive health care, and was intended to encourage Congress to support women and reproductive rights, according to event organizers.
“We are here because there are some people in Washington (D.C.) that want to turn back the clock on our hard-earned progress for women,” said Jenna Tosh, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood California Central Coast.
Event organizers commended Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, for being a champion for reproductive health care and rights.
Carbajal was the keynote speaker.
“I firmly believe the provider a woman chooses to go to for her reproductive health care is not a decision that rests in the hands of politicians,” Carbajal said to the crowd.
He noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade that established a constitutional right to an abortion in 1973.
“The right to a safe and legal abortion has been the law of the land for over four decades,” Carbajal said. “We are not going to let Donald Trump — or anyone else turn back the clock.”
Carbajal said that throughout his public service career, he has heard “countless stories of good work” that Planned Parenthood has offered.
One in five women in the United States have used Planned Parenthood services during their life, and nearly 3 million women and men show up to Planned Parenthood for medical care annually, Carbajal said.
“When Republicans threaten to defund Planned Parenthood, they commit to defunding access to cancer screenings, birth control, STD and HIV testing and treatment that people rely on,” Carbajal said.
He described defunding the organization as “dangerous and irresponsible.”
“When we are talking about defunding — we aren’t talking about defunding Planned Parenthood, but it’s actually about care for the most vulnerable people who rely on the Medi-Cal (Medicaid) program,” Tosh said after the rally.
About 35,000 patients along the Central Coast visit Planned Parenthood annually, and about 12 percent of that number are men, according to Tosh.
“This is the biggest fight we have ever faced,” Tosh said. “Health care is a human right — you deserve affordable compassionate health care.”
The rally was one of many across the nation during the week-long congressional recess.
Tosh noted that for some individuals, Planned Parenthood is the only source of health care.
“If Congress blocks access to care at Planned Parenthood, it will cause a national health-care disaster,” Tosh said.
Tosh said 48 percent of Trump voters support Planned Parenthood.
“The work ahead is reminding our elected officials that seven in 10 Americans oppose efforts to defund Planned Parenthood,” Tosh said after the event. “Attacks on Planned Parenthood will not be tolerated.”
On East Anapamu Street — the outskirts of the crowd consisting of Planned Parenthood supporters — stood Barbara O’Brien, 21, holding an aborted fetuses poster.
The Thomas Aquinas College student attended to stand against abortions and federal funding for the health-care provider, whose services include abortions.
Five other young adults stood alongside O’Brien.
”I’d like to see it (Planned Parenthood) defunded because we shouldn’t be funding the ending of human life,” said O’Brien, a Wisconsin native who lives in Santa Paula. “Nobody should be a part of funding murder.”
In the crowd, her fellow protesters held placards of aborted fetuses.
The anti-Planned Parenthood protesters were students ages 18 to 21, according to O’Brien.
“We came to show our side — we defend human life,” O’Brien said after the rally. “It’s an important thing to defend.”
O’Brien said she agrees that a female has rights to her body but added, “most people don’t realize that when you’re pregnant and conceiving a child — there’s another body that has nothing to do with your body. It’s another human being that needs defense — just as much defense as she (the mother).”
In the cheering crowd where supporters chanted, “Health care is a human right,” stood Santa Barbara resident Brian Roeder, 40.
“I want to show that I stand with Planned Parenthood,” Roeder said. “There’s an injustice in health care in regards to women.”
Sporting a black Planned Parenthood hat — which also serves as a condom holder on the front and said “No love no glove” — Reverend Mark Asman, a founding member of the group Clergy for Choice and Planned Parenthood board member, showed his support.
Asman said more than 20 local religious leaders, including Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and other traditions, support Planned Parenthood.
“As religious leaders, we are committed to sacred, non-violent resistance against religious and political leaders who want to impose their anti-choice agenda on all of us,” Asman said.
He noted that more than 40 denominations and organizations nationally are Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice members, a group that upholds the constitutional and human rights of all people to exercise their desire to make their reproductive health decisions.
Elected officials and community leaders also attended.
Santa Barbara Unified School District board member Laura Capps, Goleta Union School District board president Luz Reyes-Martin, Santa Barbara City Council members Bendy White, Gregg Hart and Cathy Murillo, as well as Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann and Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf also attended the event.