Dueling protest draws fans, foes of Planned Parenthood

Mike Martindale, The Detroit News

Detroit — A demonstration outside Planned Parenthood offices near Wayne State on Saturday by abortion foes quickly turned into a support rally for the facility and women’s rights.

About 1,000 people, the majority sign-carrying women, turned out in front of the office and lined both sides of Cass between West Canfield and Willis to voice support for health services, including abortions, provided by Planned Parenthood. At times the counter-demonstrators split off into chanting, marching groups, both on and off the street.

The initial demonstration was one of 225 anti-abortion public awareness protests taking place across the nation Saturday, including 15 locations across Michigan, according to Monica Migliorino Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, who estimated about 100 of her group’s supporters showed up at the Cass location.

Similar protests also were held at Planned Parenthood clinics Ferndale, Livonia, Warren, Ann Arbor, Burton, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Marquette, Muskegon, Petoskey and Traverse City

Miller said her group wants to see Planned Parenthood defunded. The group believes under President Donald Trump and a “more sympathetic” Congress, it is an achievable goal.

In one of his first acts as president, Trump last month banned U.S. 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 organization is reimbursed by Medicaid for other services, including birth control and cancer screening. Anti-abortion conservatives have long tried to cut Planned Parenthood funds, arguing that the reimbursements help subsidize 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.

“As long as they are going to exterminate the unborn, and ignore their rights, they (Planned Parenthood) doesn’t deserve a red cent of taxpayer dollars,” said Miller of South Lyon. “We will continue to demonstrate and work towards defunding this organization.”

The Cass office is closed on Saturdays and there were no confrontations or arrests, Detroit police officers on the scene reported.

Miller and others, carrying their own signs, were undeterred by the large number of counter-demonstrators who loudly but peacefully took over their event.

“Just being present here speaks volumes,” said Josh Grandmaison of Detroit, carrying a large sign of a 6-week-old “pre-born baby” next to a counter-demonstrator with her own “Legal abortions save lives” sign.

“There are a lot of people who are pro-life who couldn’t make it out today,” Grandmaison said. “Abortion is wrong. Women who have abortions know they are doing the wrong thing.”

One of the counter-protest marshals, Sara Byczek of Detroit, described the large turnout as an “organic” event spurred by social media, especially Facebook postings.

“I can’t tell you exactly how many are here — we estimate over 1,000 and when we got here this morning there were only 15 of them,” said Byczek, who said services provided by Planned Parenthood include not only birth control but breast exams, health care and education.

Gerry Marson of Centerline said she came to show here opposition to Planned Parenthood.

“So many of these young people here seem to be following the wrong message,” said Marson. “I ask them: ‘Are you happy your mother chose life?’ ”

Several standing beside a large green “Defund Planned Parenthood” banner at the building’s entrance attempted a group prayer, their words lost in chants of “This is what democracy looks like.”

Several counter-protestors across the street scuffed their feet on a message on the sidewalk in yellow chalk that read “Abortion kills people.”

Emily Soni of Northville and Nicole Rothenberg of Royal Oak identified themselves as doctors who also attended the Women’s March on Washington last month —Rothenberg in Washington and Soni in Lansing.

“We have to keep Planned Parenthood funded,” said Rothenberg. “It’s not about abortion, it’s about nearly two dozen health services that are provided, including birth control. The schools aren’t doing a good job and organizations like this can help prevent problem pregnancies and more.”

She cited a national study that showed “seven in 10 women believe abortions should be legal and safe.”

Supporters and opponents of Planne Parenthood faced off on Saturday outside one the clinic’s facilities on Cass Avenue in Detroit.

A few feet away, Rick Weise of Monroe stood with his green “Defund Planned Parenthood” sign. Weise admitted counter-demonstrators largely outnumbered his group.

“We are kind of outnumbered today but the silent majority spoke in the election and they are speaking right now,” Weise said. “Protest is a right. Unfortunately, I don’t hear dialogue, I just see a lot of anger.

“I don’t think taxpayers should be funding this,” Weise said. “If you want an abortion, pay for it out of your own pocket.”

Lori Zurvalec of Grosse Pointe attended the event with some friends, most of them in their 60s. She noted the recent Woman’s March, which she attended in Lansing, is an indication of an awakening activism and how younger women especially are feeling empowered to become more involved in actions involving rights, including their own bodies.

“A lot of these people got excited’ with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders,” she said. “They aren’t about to slow down, regardless of who is in power. This is their world and I would expect these type of events to grow.”


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