Planned Parenthood's Problem

The clinic is asking pro-choice protesters to stay home.

On a recent Saturday, anti-abortion protesters held a prayer vigil outside the Central District's Planned Parenthood Clinic. The protests were nothing new; they've been a monthly affair for a couple of years now. But this time they were met by an equal and opposing force: a number of picketing pro-choice activists.

For much of the summer, a group that calls itself the Seattle Clinic Defense has counteracted the anti-abortion chanters with clever retorts of their own. Among the selections: "Keep Your Rosaries Off Our Ovaries" and "Not the Church, Not the State, Women Must Decide Their Fate."

The only problem: Planned Parenthood, the people whom they're showing up to support, just wishes they would stop.

It's not that Planned Parenthood doesn't appreciate the sentiments of the activists on its behalf, explains spokesperson Kristen Glundberg-Prossor. Especially now, when federal funding for the organization is under attack in Congress, the group needs all the support it can get.

But Glundberg-Prossor says that Planned Parenthood has found that counterprotests are "confusing for the public." In short, people driving by can't distinguish those for from those against. All they see are protesters. And more people, even ones there to support the clinic's mission, are "disruptive."

Glundberg-Prossor says this message has been communicated to Seattle Clinic Defense, which arose out of a local pro-choice walk held last February. Organizer Alison Mehravari confirms that the message was received. In talks with the clinic, she says, staff has suggested other means of support, such as phone-banking and contacting elected officials.

But Mehravari says the group has already tried those methods and doesn't intend to stop. "We have been contacting our elected officials and fund-raising 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 as by neighborhood residents weary of the ever-present anti-choice protesters. She feels her group's presence has led the anti-choice contingent—belonging to a group called the Gospel of Life Institute—to start its hymn-singing events an hour earlier, when fewer patients are around.

That theory will be tested in the coming weeks. Wednesday marks the start of a nationwide campaign called "40 Days for Life." Every day for 40 days, in both the fall and spring, picketers from a coalition of anti-abortion groups will gather at reproductive health facilities across the country, including Seattle's.

No word yet on how Seattle Clinic Defense plans to respond to the "40 Days" campaign. But chances are good that, no matter how they choose to deal with the Moses-length protests, the people they're there to support will publicly plead with them to stay home.

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