Hundreds of demonstrators, including women, men, teens and children, lined Hoag and Placentia drives just before 5 p.m. holding up signs including ones that read "Abortion is Murder," "Hoag saves Lives," and "Protect Womens Health," chanting with bull horns, debating one another and shouting their feelings about abortion. The heated clash came just weeks after Hoag announced it would no longer offer elective abortions.
Hospital officials have said the choice was made by its board following a "clinically-led evaluation of several services" and was based on the "principle of providing the best available and highest quality health care for the communities we serve." Opponents allege the ban was religiously inspired due to Hoag's fairly recent affiliation with the St. Joseph Health System and its Catholic faith.
"Hoag had been doing this procedure for two decades," said Lori Vandermeir, communications director for the California National Organization for Women. "No one was standing on the corners complaining like they are today."
Newport Beach resident Sandra Mayhew, who gave birth to her two children at Hoag and has had mammograms done at the hospital, said she was disheartened to learn about Hoag's change of policy in May.
"This is disappointing to me," Mayhew said. "I hope Hoag hears the voices out here. Maybe it's the first step to making them reconsider."
Despite the protest, pleas and chants of "Shame on Hoag!" the hospital's policy on elective abortions will not be swayed, officials said.
"We respect the people and points of view in our community, and it is unfortunate that a decision made with the community’s best interest in mind has been misrepresented as part of a larger political agenda. It simply is not," Nina Robinson, Hoag spokeswoman, said in a released statement.
In May, Hoag CEO and President Robert Braithwaite acknowledged that St. Joseph's officials expressed opposition to abortions during the merger process.
"We knew it was an important issue to St. Joseph's, but our board stepped back and as part of their due diligence as part of the other services we were reviewing we looked at it holistically,” he said.
The decision to end elective abortions at Hoag was due to "many factors," including St. Joseph's opposition, Braithwaite said.Dr. Peggy Pugh, who works at the Hoag Women's Breast Center, said she still has hope the board will change its position but is also worried about the fate of other healthcare services now that Hoag and St. Joseph Health System are affiliated.
"We were reassured this wouldn't happen when Hoag joined forces with St. Joseph and now it has," Pugh said in reference to elective abortions. "Many of us doctors are now worried that contraception and sterilization may also be in jeopardy and one day be discontinued."
However, many pro-life demonstrators, who seemed to dominate the protest, said they were proud of Hoag for taking a stance on preserving life and urged the hospital not to be pressured by its opponents.
"It's not for a woman to decide the fate of an unborn child, so we strongly support Hoag's decision," CJ Williams, a member of the group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, said. "There are other options aside from abortion like adoption."
"Abortion kills babies and kills women, and through this new ban Hoag is helping save more lives," Rachel McFadden, who attended the rally to show support for the hospital, said. "I applaud Hoag for doing the right thing."
Maia Pellegrine brought her two little girls from their home in Rancho Santa Margarita to the protest at Hoag. She said she hoped the rally would teach the girls to stand up for their rights.
"I want my girls to always have their own opinions and stand up for what they believe in," Pellegrine, who opposes the elective abortion ban, said.
Pellegrine's 10-year-old daughter Sophia, said she was excited to be in the midst of the protesters.
"I heard a few honks to support us and our signs, so I think it's really exciting," Sophia said.
By 6:15 p.m., the crowd of protesters had started to disperse.
But that doesn't mean the debate is over.
"A lot of our members are Hoag donors, so we are going to start having them pull their funding," Vandermeir said. "We are also going to be having talks with Hoag's board to get to the bottom of this decision."
What do you think about Hoag's ban on elective abortions? Tell us in the comments.
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