Pro-life activists staged rallies across America on Saturday calling for the federal government to cut off payments to Planned Parenthood.
However, in some cities there were sizeable counter-demonstrations. Thousands of Planned Parenthood supporters, many wearing the pointy-eared pink hats popularised by last month’s women’s marches, turned out for a rally in St Paul, Minnesota, separated by barricades from a pro-life crowd of a couple hundred people.
Andy LaBine, 44, of Ramsey, Minnesota, rallied with abortion opponents in St Paul. LaBine, who was there with his family, said he believes Planned Parenthood is hiding “under a veil of healthcare.”
“I personally believe that abortion is a profound injustice to the human race,” LaBine said.
In one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump last month banned US funding to international groups that perform abortions or even provide information about abortions. Vice President Mike Pence strongly opposes abortion, citing his Catholic beliefs, and the newly confirmed health secretary, Tom Price, has supported cutting off taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood.
Federal dollars don’t pay for abortions, but the organisation is reimbursed by Medicaid for other services, including birth control and cancer screening. Pro-life conservatives have long tried to cut Planned Parenthood funds, arguing that the reimbursements help subsidise abortions. Planned Parenthood says it performed 324,000 abortions in 2014, the most recent year tallied, but the vast majority of women seek out contraception, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, or other services including cancer screenings.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says defunding plans would cut roughly $400 million in Medicaid money from the group in the year after enactment and would result in roughly 400,000 women losing access to care. Republicans would redirect the funding to community health centers, but Planned Parenthood supporters say women denied Medicaid services from Planned Parenthood may not be able to find replacement care.
At the nonprofit group’s New York headquarters, supporters outnumbered a group of 50 abortion rights opponents by a ratio of 3-to-1, and thousands rallied separately at Washington Square Park to support Planned Parenthood. In the Seattle suburb of Kent, 300 supporters turned out, as opposed to a couple dozen opponents, KOMO-TV reported. By contrast, in the deeply conservative western Iowa city of Council Bluffs, two dozen pro-life demonstrators drew no counter-rally.
Outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Dallas suburb of Plano, about 20 anti-abortion protesters gathered — a few more than a typical Saturday, attendees said. They bore signs reading “Abortion Kills Children,” ”Pray to End Abortion” and “Men Regret Lost Fatherhood.”
Maria Nesbitt, 47, participated along with her husband and daughters, ages five and three, and said she was pleased about Trump’s election and the prospect of cutting Planned Parenthood’s funding. She and the girls held signs saying “Pray to End Abortion,” though she said they’re too young to understand what it means.
Nearby, Anthony Hodgson, 57, held a sign with the same message.
“I believe it’s not right. God told us, ‘Thou shalt not kill,'” he said.