Patrick Von Dohlen holds a large sign protesting abortion in front of Planned Parenthood facility in the Medical Center.
Patrick Von Dohlen holds a sign protesting abortion in front of a Planned Parenthood facility in the Medical Center. Credit: Hagen Meyer for the San Antonio Report

The pro-family and anti-abortion San Antonio Family Association on Tuesday sent out a “call to action” urging San Antonio City Council members not to appoint Dr. Junda Woo as the local health authority for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

Woo served as medical director for Planned Parenthood South Texas before taking the position as Metro Health’s medical director in 2015. The local health authority position is mandated by the State to diagnose, investigate, and monitor community health hazards and enforce laws and rules that protect community health.

The proposed ordinance will be presented to the mayor and City Council on Thursday.

The Family Association issued a call for pro-life advocates to speak out against the appointment of Woo, repeatedly labeling her an “ABORTIONIST” in capital letters throughout the email to organization supporters.

“The appointment of an ABORTIONIST, who has been employed by Planned Parenthood to the position of Local Health Authority sends a clear message that Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council of San Antonio hold that abortion is an essential service,” the email reads. “They must believe that qualifications for the job, include the ability to snuff out life at its earliest, skill in procuring baby body parts for sale, and perhaps even the ability to slit the vocal cords of an unborn child prior to the abortion should the child survive and be born alive…”

Patrick Von Dohlen, president of the San Antonio Family Association, said appointing Woo as local health authority “is like appointing Michael Vick to be the animal control authority.” (The former NFL quarterback in 2007 pleaded guilty for his involvement in a dog fighting ring and served 21 months in federal prison.)

“The City of San Antonio has no business employing an abortionist who has the past that she has when there are plenty of other people who can serve in that capacity,” said Von Dohlen, who unsuccessfully ran for the City Council District 9 seat in 2017. “Why can’t we find one who isn’t an abortionist that doesn’t have a history with Planned Parenthood?”

Woo previously was pegged to serve as local health authority in 2015, but her appointment was rescinded following comments from public interest groups made before then-Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council during Citizens to be Heard in August 2015. The role then defaulted to Dr. Lillian Ringsdorf, director of the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Region 8.

Metro Health Director Colleen Bridger told the Rivard Report that the City health department began a search to fill the position when she became department head in 2017. The local health authority position requires a medical doctor to complete state reports for infectious disease and medication distribution programs, and Woo had been overseeing these programs for San Antonio since being appointed the medical director. Out of the pool of candidates, Woo was the best person to fulfill the role, Bridger said.

“She has done an exemplary job as medical director, and she had the best understanding of public health,” Bridger said. “[Woo’s] previous employment working for Planned Parenthood does not have anything to with this particular addition to her job duties. She has had no relationship with Planned Parenthood for at least the last 18 months.”

Metro Health has been using the regional health authority on an interim basis for more than three years. Texas Public Health Region 8 borders the Rio Grande and Mexico to the west and the Gulf Coast to the east and includes 28 counties of South-Central Texas.

Bridger said given the size of Bexar County, it is unconventional for the local jurisdiction not to have a locally appointed person who communicates with the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

“The essential job function of a local health authority is to be the physician who interacts with the court system and [DSHS] to ensure that if there is a communicable disease risk in the community, [Metro Health] can use appropriate legal remedies to address that,” Bridger said.

She also noted that those duties would be added to Woo’s current role as medical director, thereby eliminating the need for the $75,000 salary budgeted for the position.

Von Dohlen said appointing Woo as local health authority to save money is not in the interest of public health. He also expressed concern over programs she has worked with during her tenure with Metro Health, including Project Worth, which promotes the health and well-being of Bexar County children and teens, and the Tobacco 21 initiative, which also worked directly with teens to advocate for raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.

“She certainly shouldn’t have access to young females who are vulnerable, potentially in crisis, and may be persuaded to do something,” Von Dohlen said. He called into question whether Woo has referred people to Planned Parenthood or other “abortion businesses” during her time with Metro Health.

Von Dohlen said Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh has been working with the Family Association to answer these questions and more, but that the City is “missing the bigger picture about what the appointment means.”

“This gives [Woo] a position of prominence and prestige that condones her illicit, immoral, and downright evil killing of unborn human babies,” Von Dohlen said, noting that nothing has changed since her appointment was rescinded in 2015 other than there being a new mayor and City Council members who may more readily support her appointment.

The Family Association said a vote for Woo by any member of City Council would “state where they stand on abortion and place them at odds with the majority of San Antonio voters who are Catholic, Christian, and Pro-life.” Its members will hold a rally in front of the City Council Chambers at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 15, ahead of the Citizens to be Heard meeting at 6 p.m.

If appointed, Woo would serve a two-year term effective Oct. 1, 2018, and ending Sept. 30, 2020. 

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.