Dozens of speakers flooded county chambers on Tuesday, speaking for nearly two hours before Santa Barbara County Supervisors on a seemingly routine resolution to honor the work of Planned Parenthood in the county.
The item passed 3-2, with Supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino dissenting.
The item was part of a regular board meeting and listed on the board’s administrative agenda, which is usually approved with little public discussion.
Board Chair Janet Wolf said that in 2013, the board had passed a similar resolution, with a 3-1-1 vote, with Lavagnino abstaining and Adam dissenting.
In 2014, a similar item was unanimously approved by the board, she said.
The county’s resolution sought to recognize the organization for its services, but speakers took umbrage with one paragraph in particular.
That passage stated that “some anti-abortion extremist organizations have released heavily-edited videos that intentionally misrepresent the facts in order to deceive the public and discredit Planned Parenthood with the goal of banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood, thereby preventing women from receiving birth control, life-saving cancer screenings, and access to other preventive healthcare services.”
The full resolution can be read here.
Earlier this year, secretly-recorded videos were released by anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, which claimed that Planned Parenthood illegally profits from selling fetal tissue from abortions conducted in its facilities.
Officials from Planned Parenthood have stated the videos have been edited in a way that would mislead the public and deny the accusations.
As for Tuesday’s resolution language, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he felt the resolution contained “one-sided, inflammatory language.”
Over the next two hours, a host of speakers came out against the resolution, primarily speaking from Santa Maria, many of them reading passages from the Bible and praying at the podium.
Several clergy also spoke, urging the supervisors not to approve the resolution.
Others said they recognized it was an election year and would do all they could to oppose those who receive funding from the organization, and noted the political split between portions of the electorate.
“Welcome to the North County,” speaker Andy Caldwell taunted.
Speaker Terri Stricklin said she strongly disagreed with the spirit of the resolution, including the words “extremists.”
“As a taxpayer and citizen, I would ask that this resolution not be adopted,” she said.
Several speakers said they thought it was ironic that the Planned Parenthood item followed a resolution honoring the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Speaker James Blair appeared at the podium with his 17-year-old daughter, Emily, who has down’s syndrome.
Blair said that many parents who discover their child has down syndrome in utero chose to abort their children before they are born.
“I didn’t take that option and this is the best blessing that I ever could have taken,” he said, adding that he saw the resolution as a political move.
Other speakers urged the supervisors to keep their focus on local issues, “not embroiling yourselves in national social issues,” said speaker Karen Bull.
After the outpouring of public comment, Jenna Tosh, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo, appeared to speak on behalf of the organization and said she had 70 letters of support for people that could not be there to speak.
“Fetal tissue research has been happening under congressional oversight since 1993,” she said, adding that the research has been focused on finding cures for diseases like Parkinson’s.
“The outrageous allegations in these videos are simply not true,” she said.
After the vote was taken, Supervisor Salud Carbajal was the first to speak, stating that he appreciated the public commenters, no matter which side of the issue they were on.
Carbajal has served on the Planned Parenthood board of directors in the past and said he’s supported expanding abortion services.
“For me, it’s about protecting the rights of women to have sovereignty over their bodies,” he said, adding that many women who seek services are low-income and do not have access to other healthcare.
“I’m a man and I stand here today proud to support Planned Parenthood and I would do it over and over and over again,” he said.
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he felt the resolution was a political move, adding that the county’s language was more inflammatory that language the City of Santa Barbara would be asked to approve in a similar resolution on Tuesday afternoon.
He said that labeling people as “extremists” discouraged public discourse, and also said he was disturbed by what he saw in the videos.
“I will not be able to support the resolution,” he said.
Supervisor Janet Wolf said that her colleagues who opposed the measure should understand that most of the organization’s resources go towards other services.
“I would imagine that they understood that what a very small percentage of what Planned Parenthood does are abortions,” she said.
She called the move to defund the organization on a national level “concerning, and I’m very proud that we brought this resolution,” she said.
“This is a county issue.”
There was opposition to a similar resolution at the Santa Barbara City Council chamber Tuesday afternoon.
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, a former Planned Parenthood employee, and councilwoman Cathy Murillo brought a resolution in support of Planned Parenthood to the council and it passed 5-2.
Several speakers spoke passionately in opposition to the resolution and some called abortions “killings” and “mutilations.”
Speaker Deborah Salcedo said she is “appalled” that this resolution would even come up in light of recent events.
“This is our taxpayer money,” she said. “I hope you will all vote on this with your conscience. I am so very grateful there was not a Planned Parenthood when I was born.”
Councilman Harwood “Bendy” White said the debate over the resolution upset him.
“I am saddened when we hit these divisiveness points up here,” White said.
“Planned Parenthood is a great organization. It is a key part of empowerment to women in this city.”
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said she was proud to support Planned Parenthood. She too said she would prefer that the city didn’t have to take a public stand regarding Planned Parenthood, but that the organization deserves support.
“I think it is important to stand with an organization that has been unduly attacked,” Schneider said.
Councilmembers Dale Francisco and Frank Hotchkiss opposed the resolution. Hotchkiss said “I don’t think it’s a media question; It’s a moral question.”
Hotchkiss said he recently spent time with his 1-year-old grandson and “the little guy brings home to me how important young lives are.”
Francisco, at times choking up in his comments, said he respects the women’s health services that Planned Parenthood, but that’s where he draws the line.
“I have a problem with abortion,” Francisco said.
“A lot of people do. Until the investigation is complete, we won’t know the answer. I hope Planned Parenthood is vindicated, but I fear that Parenthood will not be. This is absolutely the wrong time to be bring thing this kind of resolution forward.”
Staff Writer Joshua Molina reported from the Santa Barbara City Council meeting.