Hundreds of people gathered outside Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Center in Lower Manhattan on Saturday morning to protest Congressional Republicans’ plans to defund Planned Parenthood as part of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Across Bleecker Street, a little more than a dozen anti-abortion protesters held signs that said “Unborn Lives Matter” and “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion.” Some of them stood at outside the entrance of the health center holding brochures in an attempt to lure away anyone entering the facility. A handful of Planned Parenthood employees, clad in bright pink vests, stood watch.
“I believe people out here are self-involved. They don’t believe life includes life inside them,” said Jim MacDonald, gesturing to the Planned Parenthood supporters. “I was taught that abortion is murder.”
Their demonstration was part of a coordinated effort by pro-life organizations across the country to support current efforts to restrict and eliminate safe access to abortion. Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reinstating a Reagan-era law that blocks U.S. aid for foreign organizations that perform or discuss abortions. As a candidate, Trump vowed to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade, and his nominee to replace Justice Scalia, Neil Gorsuch, is considered to fit that bill.
“We’re not about taking away women’s rights,” said Treasa Dalton, 26, a member of millennial group Pro-Life Future, who was outside the Sanger Center. “The idea is that we want the attention of elected representatives to let them know that money allocated to Planned Parenthood can be redirected to federally qualified health centers that provide a broad range of healthcare and outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics.”
Rebecca Mull, a teacher living in New Jersey, agreed. “There are many crisis pregnancy clinics that can help with pre and post-natal care, adoption and giving women choices other than abortion,” said Mull. She likened legal restrictions on abortion to speed limit laws, designed to restrict individual choices in defense of a common good. Expanding social services would “give them more choice,” she said.
Just three percent of health services are abortions according to Planned Parenthood, which also provides a host of other medical services including sex education, STI testing and treatment, pap smears, hormone replacement therapy, even vasectomies for men. No federal dollars support abortion services at Planned Parenthood thanks to the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976, three years after Roe v. Wade.
“Abortion is healthcare. It’s a totally normal, healthy thing and we need to stand up for it as a human right,” said Amy Hickey, 29, a union organizer originally from Michigan, who was picketing with the Planned Parenthood supporters. “[Republicans] have the presidency, they have Congress, they’re going to have the Supreme Court,” she said. “They think they’re in an ideal situation to take away abortion rights and we’re committed to not letting it happen.”
A few hours later, thousands more Planned Parenthood supporters gathered nearby at Washington Square Park. Pink pussy hats dotted the crowd and organizers urged attendees to use their dollars and their time to support Planned Parenthood and resistance efforts, especially those supporting Muslims, immigrants, women of color and the LGBTQ community.
Elizabeth Richards, 31, stood on a mound of snow sporting green hospital scrubs, a white doctor’s coat and a sign that said “Physicians for Planned Parenthood”. A pathology resident at Montefiore Medical Center in the north Bronx, Richards said the threat to abortion rights begins right here in Democratic New York State.
“Even current law [in New York] puts lives in danger,” said Richards. “If a woman’s life is at risk and she needs quick access [to a late-term abortion], women have to go to another state.”
Richards she reiterated concerns that the fight over abortion and funding Planned Parenthood is a moral argument divorced from medical opinion. Pro-lifers at the Sanger Center cited common arguments about the safety of abortions.
“Having a full-term pregnancy is more dangerous than abortion and carries more risk,” said Richards. “The risks [of abortion] are small and there are few side effects.”
And the crusade to defund the most visible representative of abortion rights, she said, could have dire public health consequences that reverberate far beyond unwanted pregnancies.
“[At Montefiore] we read pap smears and handle specimens for cervical cancer, and the rates are far higher in the north Bronx than they should be. It’s because women in my neighborhood don’t have access to screening services,” she said.
“This is not about morals. My patients will suffer if they don’t have Planned Parenthood.”