Ideology and a streetlight divided protesters on Saturday morning outside a Planned Parenthood in Tempe, Arizona. Those on one side prayed an “Our Father” in unison; those on the other wore pink cat-eared hats.
Carol Suhr said she drove three hours from Cottonwood, Arizona, to join the Rally to Defund Planned Parenthood side of the street. “I have two adopted daughters who could very well have been aborted,” she said.
Suhr called herself “pro-God” and “pro-choice,” and quoted the Declaration of Independence’s reference to life as an inalienable right as a reason to make the trip to Tempe.
“I think it’s the most important mission—there’s nothing more sacred than life,” Suhr said. “I think America has turned away from God, and I think we have been given a chance with this past election to make a change.”
Amber Squires, who organized the city’s counter-protest in support of Planned Parenthood, said she has been out every Saturday in support of the organization for close to five months.
“I came out to rally once, and then as the political front was heating up, and it was pretty blatant that [anti-choice supporters and lawmakers] are getting really serious” about defunding the organization, she said.
“Until they shut up, we won’t,” Squires added.
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According to the Tempe Police Department, about 300 people were at the event. Most, a spokesperson for the city said, were there in support of Planned Parenthood.
The Tempe protests were part of a national rally to defund Planned Parenthood organized by anti-choice activists in 45 states. According to Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League and national co-director of #ProtestPP, about 14,000 protesters gathered in more than 200 locations across the country to oppose the health-care organization.
Scheidler said he hoped the turnout would encourage federal lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood via the reconciliation bill introduced as a first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act. The measure would allow a simple Senate majority to get the bill on President Donald Trump’s desk.
Planned Parenthood received $553.7 million from government health service grants and reimbursements in the year ending in June 2015, which includes reimbursements from Medicaid-managed care plans, according to its most recent report. Sexually transmitted infection testing and contraception care made up just over three-quarters of the organization’s services that year; other women’s health services, and cancer screening and prevention accounted for 20 percent. Abortions made up 3 percent of the care provided. Except in extremely limited circumstances, federal funding cannot be used to pay for abortions.
Of the more than 2.5 million people who seek services at Planned Parenthood clinics across the United States every year, almost eight in ten fell at or beneath 150 percent of the federal poverty level, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Lisa Blevin, who organized the Tempe Rally to Defund Planned Parenthood, called the rallies an ecumenical movement. “It’s empowering to know so many people are standing behind the cause—and that cause is women’s health,” she said.
According to Blevin, the motive is not to take funding or health care away from women.
“I think there’s a movement of change,” Blevin said. “We want to support that this is something Americans believe in: defunding Planned Parenthood and redirecting those funds to other federally qualified health centers … we want these funds to help women, without supporting abortions.”
There are more than 9,800 federally qualified health centers in the United States. While they play a vital role in communities, these health centers, as reported most recently by the Guttmacher Institute, would be unable to fill the gap should Planned Parenthood clinics be forced to close. In 2014, the Washington Post noted, such health centers provided close to 1.3 million contraceptive services, while Planned Parenthood provided nearly triple that number at 3.6 million.
Furthermore, Planned Parenthood is not the only reproductive health organization in the state that has faced calls for defunding; independent providers also have been targeted. In May 2016, Arizona lawmakers passed HB 2599, which would allow the state Medicaid program to exclude any organization that fails “to segregate taxpayer dollars from abortions.” By court order, the bill will not be enforced while state agencies work out the details of Medicaid rules.
Legislators have also pushed other hurdles to abortion care. Just last week, Rewire reported on a state bill introduced this year that would order doctors to check for “evidence of life”—which would include signs of “breathing, a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsations, and definite movement of voluntary muscles.” It would also require the medical staff present during the procedure to certify under penalty of perjury that “the aborted fetus or embryo was not delivered alive.”
Although the state went red in the 2016 presidential election, a recent poll by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy and Walter Cronkite School of Journalism showed that almost three-quarters of registered voters in the state supported the right to an abortion, including six out of ten Republicans.
Protesters’ signs are a normal sight outside Tempe’s Planned Parenthood clinic, said Tayler Tucker, Planned Parenthood of Arizona communication specialist. People have been gathering to both support and protest every Saturday for more than a year, she said.
“The reality is that defunding us only hurts people—especially the people who are already the most vulnerable,” she said. “It’s still too revolutionary of an idea for a woman to own her own body.”
In addition to counter-protesting, those in support of Planned Parenthood made more than 165 calls, collected a few hundred dollars in donations, and helped supporters sign up as volunteers in Tempe, Tucker said.
Among the counter-protesters, members of Arizona State University’s chapter of VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood stood in pink t-shirts, holding signs in support of the organization.
“We’re here to support people’s rights, not to fight,” said Angelica Romero, a VOX member. “We’re here to support women.”
“One of the things to remember is that protesting is not going to be the most effective way to elicit change, but we have a voice,” said Amber Squires. “To be heard is huge.”