One Saturday a month, a small group of activists gather outside Planned Parenthood on Capitol Hill to protest abortion. For the last seven years, another group has been there to meet them and to shield patients entering the clinic. This month, however, the counter-protest could be much, much larger thanks to a Facebook event that has gone just a little bit viral.
Seattle Clinic Defense, which calls itself "a grassroots group dedicated to comprehensive, medically-accurate, shame-free and affordable reproductive care for all," organized this Saturday's counter-protest. According to the group's Facebook page, "When we show up as clinic defenders, with supportive smiles for patients and workers, we see a decrease in the amount of yelling and direct confrontation that happens. Our goal is to take back the political space that [the anti-choice protestors] have staked out and let them know that their behavior is unacceptable."
But Planned Parenthood, as Capitol Hill Blog first reported, doesn't officially support these demonstrations, and would rather protestors aid the organization in other ways. "Our number one focus at Planned Parenthood is our patients and while we know people want to show their support, we also know our patients come see us for high-quality health care, not for a political statement," a spokesperson told CHB. "The privacy and safety of our patients is of utmost importance and we ask people to respect that privacy and avoid giving voice to the opposition by holding counter-protests at our health centers. We would ask folks to take action in other ways by calling legislators, testifying at hearings, and speaking out against bad bills."
Planned Parenthood's official stance is unlikely to stop the counter-protestors, nearly 6,000 of whom have said they are "interested" in attending Saturday's event on Facebook. Michelle Farber, a midwife and one of the organizers of the demonstration, says that she isn't sure why this particular protest has gotten so much interest, but, "Since Trump's election, we have definitely seen an increase in interest in our actions," she says. "I think people are really chomping at the bit to do something meaningful and get involved. Abortion access is being whittled away. Last month, 1,500 anti-choice demonstrators helped to nearly shut a clinic down in North Carolina. People are angry about things like that and want to fight back."
And while Planned Parenthood may officially discourage counter protests, "Every time we organize a clinic defense, the response from patients and staff is overwhelmingly positive," Faber says. "People are so happy to see us there. We are there to not only prevent this harassment from being able to take place, which we are incredibly successful at, on days that we counter-picket fewer antis come out and they go home sooner."
The group creates a barrier against anti-choice activists, who often bring posters with images of abortion fetuses, which Faber insists are fake. "We have ceded ground to the antis for too long and they have gotten too bold," she says. "We are working on building a grassroots, fighting reproductive justice movement that is going to push the antis back into the shadows."
Faber doubts all 5,800 Facebook users who have expressed interest in attending will actually show up—they generally have around 30 participants—but, she says, "In the case of an overwhelming response our plan is to have a short march and speak out away from the clinic. Our goals are always, always, first to preserve access and create a calm, safe space outside the clinic."
For more on the battle being waged outside one abortion clinic, check out this short documentary from Rewire, Care in Chaos.
Update: PP is not kidding about opposing these counter-protests. Katie Rogers, Communications Manager of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, says: "The safety and privacy of our patients is of the utmost importance. We ask people to respect that privacy and avoid giving voice to the opposition by holding counter protests at our health centers. We understand an urge to protect an organization you care about and be visible, however, we don't think the need to be visible should come at the cost of patient comfort, safety, and privacy. Right now, we have a new majority in the state legislature and there are bills moving that require people to take action and speak out. For instance, the Reproductive Parity Act, the Voting Rights Act, state level Affordable Care Act protections and health care equity. You can find ways to take action here." Take note.