Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of Planned Parenthood Saturday at noon to oppose and support abortion rights. The two groups faced off across barricades at the clinic located at 1650 Valencia St. Abortion opponents numbered around 40 and supporters of choice about 200.
The counterprotests mirror hundreds around the country this weekend and come as a response to the recent effort by the U.S. Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health services nationally and globally.
On Saturday alone, some 225 protests are planned nationwide in 45 states, according to Defund Planned Parenthood, an umbrella network of “pro-life” groups rallying against a woman’s right to choose and in favor of stripping tax dollars from the clinic that fund abortions and many other free health care and reproductive services provided by the organization.
“Life starts in the womb. It’s wrong to take a life,” said Randy Mazzey, who held up a sign that read “Defund Planned Parenthood.” Mazzey said that he is not with any particular group but that news of the protest moved him to express his views on women’s reproductive health.
But many of those opposing Mazzey – in opinion and in physical location, across the sidewalk– said that abortions are just one aspect of the services offered by Planned Parenthood, and that defunding the entire organization because of its abortion service is misguided.
“Planned Parenthood does way more things than abortion – they do baby check-ups, STD checks – unprotected sex isn’t only about abortion,” said Zenaida Hernandez, who lives around the corner from the clinic and said she has used its services for some 25 years. “I was a teen mom. I got my pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood. My kid got her immunization shots here.”
“I’m disgusted with people who are so ignorant and not aware of how important Planned Parenthood is that they would say ‘defund them,’” she said. “How dare they talk shit about only abortion – this is an all-encompassing women’s and children’s health service provider.”
When asked if he supported the defunding of other services provided by Planned Parenthood, such as birth control, Mazzey expressed indifference.
“I’m not here for the other services” said Mazzey. “I think it was said by Trump very clearly – ‘defund the abortion part’ – why would I care about the other [services]?”
Though eclipsed by the large number of supporters of the clinic, some anti-abortion activists in front of the Valencia clinic said that both groups technically stand on common ground.
“It’s important to us to make sure there is quality, affordable and accessible health care, including contraceptives and all of the other services – minus killing a human being,” said Therrisa Bucovinac, president of Pro-life Future San Francisco and West Coast coordinator of Secular Pro Life. Bucovinac said the countering protest was a positive result of her activism, and hoped it would be the catalyst for a much needed conversation about equality and human rights.
“When you come face to face with another human you are a little more willing to find common ground,” she said.
In these two videos Bucovinac and a woman on the other side of the barricades have a civil conversation about their differences.
In the first, Bucovinac, carrying the sign Human Rights for All Humans, offers her point of view, and in the second video, Janice Strassheim, who supports choice, responds.
The protest remained peaceful throughout its duration, with only one pro-choice protester fished out from the midst of the pro-life advocates by police.
“They didn’t want me to be on their side,” said Blake Griffith, who had crossed the barricades to hold up a sign that read Abortion Without Apology. Disregarding police officials’ instructions to remain on the other side of the barricades, the man said he felt a strong need to protect women’s rights – his stepsister, he explained, was a mother of three who had “two children before the age of 18” and committed suicide three years ago.
“If she had a lot more autonomy over her life and my parents hadn’t discouraged her from having an abortion, I think she would have been in a much better place,” said Griffith.
San Francisco Police Lieutenant Eric Washington said that some 12 officers oversaw the protest to facilitate both sides’ “first amendment rights” and to ensure there would be “no violence on either side.” By 2:45 p.m., the vocal crowds disbanded, and only a handful of protesters remained.
Gilda Hernandez, interim CEO of Planned Parenthood, said that the organization had originally encouraged protesters standing on both sides of the issue to express themselves “far away from our health center.”
“This is quite intimidating for people who are just seeking health care,” said Hernandez said about the clinic’s clients, adding that she was nonetheless appreciative of the strong show of support.
When asked about the federal threat to the organization’s funding, Hernandez called the protest “indicative of the whole issue.”
“You have a few anti-Planned Parenthood protesters and a vast majority who are pro. That’s indicative not just of the Bay Area but in all of California, that a vast majority of people know of our work and support us,” she said, adding that the organization is “determined to prevail.”