by Jason D’Amours
At 9:30 a.m., only 30 minutes after the start of the rally, 140 people were standing in solidarity at downtown Sarasota’s Planned Parenthood while seven protesters stood at the entrance holding rosary beads and praying.
Only three weeks after the Women’s March on Washington, a march that claimed to support reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights and environmental justice, pro-life grassroots organizations have responded. Organized by the #ProtestPP Coalition, local pro-lifers have been called upon to take to the streets and to protest Planned Parenthoods across the country.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, 196 Defund Planned Parenthood rallies were scheduled to take place in 44 states. While most took place on this day, the Sarasota pro-life chapter decided to schedule their rally on Friday, Feb. 10 instead.
Eliza Fixler, a thesis student with an Area of Concentration (AOC) in Spanish and Social Sciences, found the Sarasota chapter’s choice to be disturbing. She volunteered at Planned Parenthood her second and third-year as an escort for people seeking services and noted that there were always at least a few protesters.
“We know it’s already a stressful day for people going into the center to get abortions and protesters tend to capitalize on that anxiety by showing up on Fridays regularly,” Fixler said. “The larger numbers [encouraged by a nationwide day-of-action] will definitely require a larger response and more vigilance on our part.”
A larger response is what occurred. By 1:00 p.m., 230 supporters had signed in to stand in solidarity, while only a couple dozen protesters walked the sidewalk.
The Pro-Life Action League, a major co-sponsor of this national day of action, demands the end of all federal funding of Planned Parenthood and wishes for those funds to be diverted to other Federal Qualified Health Centers that provide health services but do not perform abortions.
New College alum (‘82) and Sarasota Resident James Kurt organized the Defund Planned Parenthood protest because he believes it is important to save human life.
“It is a choice to kill,” Kurt said. “We can’t stop anyone from doing that if that’s what they’re going to do. But, we come here every week actually to pray and we also offer help. There are pregnancy centers in the area that can offer free assistance, free adoption services, free baby stuff, housing, anything that they might want.”
In 2014-2015, 43 percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding was from government health services grants and reimbursements. However, there is no strict amount in the federal budget that goes straight to Planned Parenthood. Instead, the majority of federal dollars go to Planned Parenthood through public health programs like Medicaid and Title X (the nation’s family planning program) reimbursements. Defunding Planned Parenthood, then, restricts patients who rely on those public health programs from receiving care at Planned Parenthood facilities.
Even then, those patients are not all seeking abortion services. Of all the medical services Planned Parenthood centers provide, abortion services only account for 3 percent of them, with STI/STD testing and treatment (45 percent) leading, followed by contraception (31 percent), other women’s health services (13 percent) and cancer screening and prevention (7 percent). Defunding Planned Parenthood will restrict Medicaid and Title X patients from all the services Planned Parenthood provides, not just abortions.
Sarah Scully, a thesis student studying political science and gender studies, stood on the steps of Planned Parenthood wearing an ‘escort’ vest.
“I am a regular volunteer [with Planned Parenthood],” Scully said. “I do patient escorting as often as I can [and] I am involved in a global advocacy fellowship with them. It’s important to stand in solidarity today to send a message to our patients that they have support and that the care they’re receiving here is not going anywhere.”
In response to protester’s claims that abortion is an easy way out of a terrible situation, Scully replied, “I would say that abortion is a decision. It is just a decision that a person can make. How they view it is how they view it and it’s nobody else’s business.”
A media statement from Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida regarded protests like the one that took place on Feb. 10 as a way “to shame the patients who seek basic health care services from Planned Parenthood and to intimidate the health care professionals who work here. The bottom line is that everyone should be able to get health care without fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation.”
Information from this article was gathered from prolifeaction.org, protestpp.com, plannedparenthood.org and plannedparenthoodaction.org.