members of a Southern California community grapples with a devastating blow to vital abortion access after a massive fire surrounded A Planned Parenthood clinic on the morning of August 15. Located in El Centro, Planned Parenthood’s Imperial Valley Home Center is the only abortion provider in Greater Imperial County. While the facility has become a major center for care in the region since it opened in 2015 safe haven for out-of-state abortion patients in 2022 following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

“This is already a very underserved area medically, so our services were really needed for the community here,” Sandra Duran, director of communications for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, told The Intercept. “We had patients coming into this health center from all over Arizona, neighboring states, and it really became a beacon of hope for so many people.”

Bordered by Mexico to the south and Arizona to the east, Imperial County is home to both the arid Colorado Desert and the severe Medicinal Desert. is one of the rural counties highest teen birth rate In California, and the loss of the Imperial Valley Clinic left El Centro residents with no other abortion provider for about 90 miles. area is near second lowest The median income of any California county, with 17.3 percent of its residents living below the poverty line. The US Census estimates that 86 percent The majority of the county’s population is Hispanic or Latino.

“Maternal health care in El Centro is quite dismal,” eleanor granothe reproductive rights advocate, who grew up in the city, wrote in a message to The Intercept. He El Centro Regional Medical Center closed its maternity ward in JanuaryIn conjunction with a hospital approximately 15 miles away.

“We see a lot of patients who are low income. We see a lot of patients who don’t have health insurance,” Duran said. “We see a lot of patients where Planned Parenthood is their primary source of health care, who have nowhere else to access basic health care services. No need to go.”

Some of these patients are also clients of WomanHaven, a domestic violence response agency in El Centro that provides emergency shelter and legal aid to survivors. Gina Vargas, executive director of WomenHaven, called Planned Parenthood “a great need in the community.”

Vargas said that, as a facility located in a border town, WomanHaven houses many domestic violence survivors who lack documentation. “One of the common fears is that when they have children, their child will be taken away from them,” Vargas said. “So they suffer abuse for a long time, because they are not aware of what their choices are. Many of them are not allowed to take care of their own health or reproductive care, as the abuser exercises control over them as well.

Duran, of Planned Parenthood, Said the facility sees a substantial increase in out-of-state patients from 2022 onwards, particularly due to the lack of access to reproductive health care in neighboring Arizona, where abortions are currently banned after 15 weeks.

The fall of Roe resulted in a number of confusing legislative changes for Arizona residents regarding the status of abortion care. Initially Arizona Provider Stopped Abortion services 2021 out of “personhood” concerns after Dobbs decision Law Which gave legal rights to unborn children. Services resumed in July 2022 after a federal judge ruled that the law could not be used to bring criminal charges against abortion providers. In December, after another protracted legal battle, an appeals court hit down A Civil War-era law that would have almost completely banned abortion in the state.

Calexico Chronicle, an Imperial Valley news outlet, informed of Fire crews were dispatched to Planned Parenthood at approximately 1:45 a.m. Tuesday. The fire started in a pile of items donated to the Salvation Army Thrift Store, which shares a fence line with the clinic.

“At this time, we are unsure of the cause of the fire and are working with authorities to complete a full investigation,” Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, said in a statement. statement, While the Imperial Valley clinic is closed, Planned Parenthood is closed pioneer Patients who require in-person services at other clinics in San Diego and Riverside counties continue to receive gender-affirming care through telehealth.

Although the cause of the fire is unknown, the damage to the clinic was reminiscent of another recent fire at an abortion clinic in Southern California. On March 13, 2022, Planned Parenthood’s Costa Mesa Health Center in Orange County is bombed with a Molotov cocktail. last month fee was announced against a third person for his alleged involvement in the attack. “Authorities allege Batten conspired with two others, including a US Marine, to attack a women’s health clinic because it provided reproductive health services,” The Guardian reported.

A reports The National Abortion Federation found that there was a “sharp increase” in violence at abortion clinics last year, including arson, burglaries, death threats and assaults. While President Joe Biden’s administration has prosecuted some of this anti-abortion extremism under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Admissions, or FACE, Act, it has also used the same federal law to break On those who advocate for reproductive rights. Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced FACE Act charges against four abortion rights activists for allegedly spray painting a crisis pregnancy center: a type of facility that claims to offer reproductive health services. but disseminates misleading, anti-abortion information.

Imperial Valley Planned Parenthood itself faced opposition from anti-abortion groups. clinic open between push enough and was initially only able to provide non-abortion services, as El Centro’s fire chief refused to sign a fire safety clearance. clearance was granted The chief and the city of El Centro were sued after Planned Parenthood.

“We have seen some very difficult times. And unfortunately it’s another dark day at that time,” Duran said. “But we are fully committed to rebuilding in the community. …It absolutely will not stop us from fulfilling our mission and getting people the care they need.”

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