The following is an except from the San Francisco Gate:
California’s Proposition 1 would safeguard the right to seek abortion services in the state’s constitution and is likely to pass in this week’s general election, according to polls.
But when it comes to parts of California where accessing an abortion is still impossible for many, the ballot measure may make little difference.
One of these places is Tulare County, a mostly rural swath of the San Joaquin Valley that sits halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield. Access to reproductive health care in the county came into national focus last spring, when a local Planned Parenthood was forced to abandon its plans to expand into a larger office after sparking fierce controversy among the community’s deeply rooted conservative population. Despite Planned Parenthood never planning to offer abortions at that office, the procedure was at the center of the debate.
The ordeal outlined the vast differences between urban and rural California when it comes to abortion — and which Californians face the highest barriers to accessing the procedure, regardless of statewide protections.
“A lot of people think of California as a very pro-choice state. But California is also huge, both geographically and population-wise, and very, very diverse,” said Usha Ranji, associate director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In 2019, Ranji led a study on reproductive health care access in Tulare County, the findings of which noted significant roadblocks to seeking care in the area — geography and poverty being leading factors.
When it comes to accessing abortions, residents must travel at least 50 miles to a provider in Fresno or Bakersfield. To the thousands of people in Tulare County living below the poverty line or in isolated, unincorporated communities, that may not be an option.
And that’s by design: Despite funding allocated to expand access to abortion services statewide, such as the recently passed Reproductive Justice Policy Priority Package, advocates in Tulare County feel that pushback from local conservative political leaders is what’s keeping abortion providers at arm’s length from most parts of the Central Valley. They fear this may continue even in a world where Prop. 1 passes.
“There’s more funding opportunities that are starting to trickle down, but the thing is, now the conservative politicians are trying to defund that or move it around,” said Michelle Rivera, program manager at ACT for Women and Girls, a Tulare County reproductive justice advocacy organization.
In August, Fresno received $1 million in state funding designated for the city’s Planned Parenthood clinics — the closest abortion providers to a majority of Tulare County. This caused an uproar among local anti-abortion groups, ultimately leading to an attempt by Fresno’s mayor, Jerry Dyer, to veto the funding.
“The matter of abortion brought hours of impassioned public comment and divisive public debate, causing further division in our community,” Dyer wrote in his veto message.
The Fresno City Council later voted to override Dyer’s veto, but the dispute showcased just how contentious abortion is across the Central Valley, and how the few providers there often stand on precarious ground.
This is part of why Ranji questions the efficacy Prop. 1 will have in Tulare County and other rural areas, should it pass in this week’s election.
“Prop. 1 doesn’t change the availability of services in a particular area,” Ranji said. “There are no requirements for developing or expanding provider infrastructure so that it reaches more people throughout the state. For people on the ground in a place like Tulare, I don’t imagine that they’re going to get more access there immediately.”
Full story at SF Gate.