WASHINGTON - Anti-abortion activists and supporters of a woman's right to choose staged demonstrations in dozens of U.S. cities Saturday, with the nonprofit group Planned Parenthood at the center of the discussion.
Anti-abortion activists organized rallies in more than 200 locations Saturday, according to one of the national organizers, Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society. The activists are calling for the federal government to stop providing funds to Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions. It is something U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants to do.
Meanwhile, pro-choice activists organized in many of the same locations to express support for the nonprofit, which provides a number of reproductive health services such as pregnancy testing, birth control, and breast exams at hundreds of locations across the United States.
Planned Parenthood does not get federal funding for abortions, but Medicaid, a government health care subsidy for low-income families, pays into Planned Parenthood’s other services. Critics say those funds help subsidize the more than 300,000 abortions the organization provides each year.
In some cities the protesters lined up on opposite sides of a major roadway and held up their signs to passing motorists. Many of the Planned Parenthood supporters wore pink knitted caps that have become their symbol of solidarity.
In some cities, such as Evansville, Indiana, turnout was small on both sides. Karen Meacham, a Planned Parenthood supporter who brought her 11-year-old daughter to the protest, notes that Indiana is the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, a longtime abortion opponent.
Still, Meacham says, there were as many as 130 Planned Parenthood supporters at the Evansville event, as opposed to about 60 against.
The anti-abortion activists, she said, “were mostly older people and they didn’t stay out as long as we did. ... The pro-choice turnout was actually really good for our small, conservative city.”
In Fort Collins, Colorado, about 1,000 people turned out in Old Town Square, far from the local Planned Parenthood facility. Supporter Lauren Farley said the measure was taken to avoid disturbing people seeking services at the clinic.
Colorado Senator John Kefalas and Representative Joann Ginal both spoke at the rally. Ginal told the crowd, “We cannot go backwards.” She added that voices of support for women’s reproductive rights are more important now than ever.
Farley, who came to the rally with her mother and sister, said the dueling demonstrators were largely peaceful.
“One solitary guy shouted ‘baby killers’ at us a few times,” she said. “He was largely ignored.”
Rally outside clinic
Meanwhile, several dozen anti-abortion activists gathered directly outside the Planned Parenthood clinic, several kilometers away. The demonstrators held signs saying “choose life” and “stop abortion now.”
Anti-abortion activist Kevin Williams, who organized the protest at the Fort Collins clinic, told the local newspaper, “We’re here to help these girls. We’re not here to judge them or condemn. We are here to help and to let them know that there’s alternatives to abortion.”
The pro-choice/anti-abortion issues that the rallies settled into, however, distressed Charsey Prose, who attended a rally in Sacramento, California. The Sacramento Bee reported about 15 anti-abortion activists faced off with some 200 Planned Parenthood supporters.
Prose said she fears the subtler issues of federal funding got lost in the argument over whether abortion should be legal at all.
“I think a lot of us that recognize all that Planned Parenthood does and the funding they need were a bit uncomfortable with it being turned into an ‘our body, our choice’ protest,” she said.
Prose added: “Regardless, it was great that so many people came out.”
In 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available, Planned Parenthood said it provided 324,000 abortions. But it also said the majority of its clients are seeking birth control, being tested for sexually transmitted diseases or other services.