Concord-based Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific has expanded from the East Bay after the national Planned Parenthood Federation canceled its affiliation with the former Planned Parenthood Golden Gate last September due to a host of financial and administrative problems. The Shasta Pacific affiliate’s new clinic is opening in a 1,600-square-foot space at 141 Camino Alto, a medical office building across from that also includes two dental practices, an orthodontist and a prosthodontist.
“We’re excited,” said Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific President and CEO Heather Estes. “There has been a lot of enthusiasm and a real sense of importance in having a Planned Parenthood here in Marin. We’ve been looking at Southern Marin and this facility met our criteria.”
Those conditions included a space on a busy, easily accesssible thoroughfare that was already built for medical use with examination rooms and “all that stuff that your average office building doesn’t have,” Estes said.
“And while most of our clients are not high school students, some of them are,” Estes said. “Those students in particular don’t always have access to cars, so being close to the high school was important. It was a combination of factors that made this the best space for us.”
Pastor Pat Michaels of on Oakdale Ave. was less enthused than Estes about the arrival of a clinic that would be providing abortions.
“The Planned Parenthood people mean well,” Michaels said. “But they are trying to find an easy answer to a complex problem. These women are going to carry with them for the rest of their lives the knowledge that they took a life. It may not hit them for a while or even for a few years, but I have had too much experience with women who realized later on just what that meant in their lives and they are crushed by that experience.”
Estes noted that the services offered at each of Planned Parenthood’s centers vary based on the size of the clinic and the needs of the community. She said the Camino Alto clinic offers family planning, annual exams, birth control, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease and HIV testing, among other services. The clinic won’t be offering any surgical abortions or pre-natal care, and the organization has not yet decided if it will be doing vasectomies at the Mill Valley location.
The center employs five people to start but it is only scheduling 20 hours a week of appointments in the initial months while it seeks state certification. Estes said the clinic will be open 40 hours a week within a year.
Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific has already opened new clinics in San Francisco and Santa Rosa and will continue to eye areas of need, Estes said. That includes the possibility of opening clinics in San Rafael and Novato within the next two years, she said. The former Planned Parenthood Golden Gate now calls itself Golden Gate Community Health and continues to operate a clinic in San Rafael on H Street.
Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific has received about $1 million in donations to help fund its expansion, including grants from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation, the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Fund and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Estes said.
Estes said that while most people focus on Planned Parenthood's medical services, she sees the Mill Valley center’s role as vital to the organization’s educational and advocacy efforts.
“We want to work help empower and educate people in other areas of their lives as it relates to preventive care and reproductive health,” she said.
Some of that work will include reaching out to Tam High for possible sex education assistance, she said.
“There is a whole coalition of people who work with adolescents on family life and sex education and we have to figure out where we can add value to what’s already being done here in Marin,” she said.
Another one of those strategies, Estes said, might involve hosting parent sex education programs.
“For better or worse, parents are the sex educators of their children and many of them feel more unprepared than they would like to be to handle some of the new things, like pornography and technology,” Estes said.
Michaels said that while the issues surrounding abortion are complex, the essence of the debate from a Roman Catholic perspective is quite clear cut.
“An abortion is the taking of a life and therefore there is another whole person here that needs to be taken into consideration and not ignored,” he said.
The opening of the Camino Alto clinic comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of the organization, with the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives leading a successful 240-185 vote on Feb. 18 to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood as part of a larger appropriations bill.
The organization is already prevented by federal law from using federal dollars for abortion services, but the amendment takes away the money they use to provide for family planning, birth control, medical and preventive services.
The House debate about Planned Parenthood featured a stunning revelation by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who lambasted Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey for his description of procedure known as “dilation and evacuation” as murder.
"I lost a baby," Speier said, saying that nearly 20 years ago, she had a miscarriage and the fetus slipped from her uterus, requiring the aforementioned procedure. "But for you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous."
The appropriations bill now moves to the Senate, and Smith has introduced a separate piece of legislation, called the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which seeks the same goal outside of the appropriations bill.
"There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and it was played out in this room tonight," Speier said in her speech on the House floor. "Planned Parenthood has a right to operate. Planned Parenthood has a right to provide services for family planning. Planned Parenthood has a right to offer abortions. Last time you checked abortions were legal in this country."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Rep. Chris Smith from New Jersey.