Last Saturday, anti-abortion protesters held a prayer vigil outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central District. It's been a monthly affair for a couple of years. This time, though, as has been the case for much of the summer, they were met by members of a group that calls itself the Seattle Clinic Defense. The pro-choice activists (pictured at right) chant things like "Keep Your Rosaries Off Our Ovaries" and "Not the Church, Not the State, Women Must Decide Their Fate."
Planned Parenthood wishes they would stop.
It's not that organization doesn't appreciate the sentiments of the activists out there on its behalf, explains Planned Parenthood spokesperson Kristen Glundberg-Prossor. Especially now, with federal funding for the organization under attack in Congress, the group needs support.
But she says that Planned Parenthood has found that counter-protests are "confusing for the public." Patients and passersby think: "Are they for Planned Parenthood? Are they against Planned Parenthood?" The bottom line, she says, is that another flank of protesters is simply more "disruptive."
She says this message has been communicated to Seattle Clinic Defense, which arose out of the local "Walk for Choice" in February. Seattle Clinic Defense organizer Alison Mehravari confirms that the message was received. In talks with the clinic, staff has suggested other means of support such as phone-banking and contacting elected officials, she says.
Nonetheless, Mehravari says the group intends to continue what it's doing. "We have been contacting our elected officials and fundraising for years, and yet the war on women's health and reproductive rights has never loomed so large," she says. "More needs to be done."
Mehravari adds that Seattle Clinic Defense members have been effusively thanked by individual Planned Parenthood staffers as well neighborhood residents weary of the anti-choice protesters they have long seen. And she feels her group's presence has led the anti-choice contingent--belonging to a group called the Gospel of Life Institute--to start their hymn-singing events an hour earlier, when fewer patients are around.
On Sept. 26, a nationwide campaign called "40 Days for Life" will bring more protesters to Planned Parenthood. Every day for 40 days, in both the fall and spring, picketers from a coalition of anti-abortion groups gather at reproductive health facilities across the country.
Seattle Clinic Defense will soon meet to discuss its response. Planned Parenthood, in turn, will weigh its response to that response. "We definitely have to put it high on the list of things to talk about," says Glundberg-Prossor.