See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
Thousands of anti-choice protesters gathered August 22 at Planned Parenthood clinics around the country during a “National Day of Protest,” in response to a series of videos spreading misinformation about the organization.
The videos, which have been released in coordination with anti-choice Republican lawmakers, have sparked outrage directed at Planned Parenthood from GOP legislators and anti-choice activists.
The videos were produced and published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group behind a series of videos seeking to defame Planned Parenthood. Questions have been raised about CMP’s deceptive tactics, ideological agenda, and connections to radical and violent anti-choice activists.
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The August 22 protests were organized and coordinated by a host of prominent anti-choice outfits, such as Create Equal, Pro-Life Action League, 40 Days for Life, and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, and were co-sponsored by groups that included the Americans United for Life, the Family Research Council, and Operation Rescue. The more than 300 organized protests took place in 47 states around the country.
Many of the protests took place at Planned Parenthood clinics that are regularly closed on Saturdays, but at those that were open, volunteer escorts were there to walk visitors to the clinics through the anti-choice gatherings.
Planned Parenthood officials view the protests as an attempt to prevent patients from accessing reproductive health care.
“These rallies are meant to intimidate and harass our patients, who rely on our non-profit health centers for basic, preventive health care,” Eric Ferrero, vice president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “The people behind these protests have a clear political agenda: they want to ban abortion, and block women and men from accessing basic reproductive health care.”
The organizers viewed the protests as a way to galvanize possible supporters and create grassroots activism in communities.
“We don’t believe this will be solved in Washington D.C., or the state legislatures,” Mark Harrington, the national director of Created Equal, told USA Today. “This will be solved in local communities when they take ownership over their own communities. That’s why we are trying to empower local organizers and pro-life organizations.”
Created Equal is known for displaying graphic images during anti-choice protests, and both Harrington and Eric Scheidler, director of the Pro-Life Action League, agreed that graphic images would be appropriate during Saturday’s protest.
“What’s really turning people’s stomachs about these videos is how real they’re making abortion,” Scheidler said, reported the Washington Examiner. “The thought of where you crush the baby … so we think showing the victims Planned Parenthood is exploiting is totally appropriate under the circumstances of this protest.”
Since the release of CMP’s heavily edited, misleading videos, anti-choicers across the country have compared Planned Parenthood to everything from drug dealers to Nazis. The protests on Saturday included much more of that same rhetoric.
At a protest in New York state, anti-choice protester Eric Quinones said that legal abortion would lead to the same consequences as marriage equality. “This death pit right here is the fuel for so many other horrible atrocities in our country as same-sex marriage, the slippery slope, this fuels it,” Quinones said, reported the Watertown Daily Times.
Quinones, who attended a protest outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Canton, New York, also appeared to call for spiritual warfare. “We need to have our spiritual armor on, so we’ll be able to pull down these strongholds and be able to lay waste to the enemy, and see an America that has no more Planned Parenthood anymore,” Quinones said. “Wouldn’t that be a glorious thing?”
Judi Scherban, who attended the Planned Parenthood protest in Boston, invoked Hitler and Nazi Germany. “I don’t understand how people are not as upset about what’s happening here, as historically they’re upset at what Hitler did,” Scherban told Boston public radio station WBUR.
At a protest in front of a construction site of a Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans, the Rev. Rod Aguillard said that the United States is “headed for destruction” because women have access to abortion care, reported the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
“This is a Germany moment,” Aguillard said. “We are in a Hitler moment right now.”
With the heated rhetoric comes worries of possible violent actions against Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.
A man accused of removing signs at an abortion clinic in Metairie, Louisiana, was arrested last month and charged with committing a hate crime. A few days before that incident, an unidentified person poured and ignited gasoline on the recently laid foundation and a security guard’s car at the same New Orleans construction site where protesters gathered Saturday.
Part of advocates’ concerns stem from the attack videos’ publishers’ connections: Troy Newman, one of the founders of CMP, is the president of Operation Rescue, a radical anti-choice organization with connections to violent extremists within the anti-choice movement.
Organizers of the protest dismissed concerns of violence. Monica Migliorino Miller, of the Pro-Life Society, said she is “opposed to any kind of violence,” but that “the real violence is happening inside their abortion facilities, and [the videos released this summer] have shown they can’t run from that,” Miller told Michigan Radio.
A report released in February found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010. Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that legislative attacks by anti-choice lawmakers have emboldened radical anti-choice activists.
CMP has repeatedly charged that Planned Parenthood has engaged in illegally selling fetal tissue of aborted fetuses.
However, the unedited video footage, which CMP does not release until hours or days after the video “highlights” are published, has consistently shown Planned Parenthood officials saying that they do not sell or make a profit from fetal tissue.
Federal law explicitly allows for the donation of fetal tissue for research or transplant. The law allows entities involved to make and receive “reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”
Republican lawmakers in states around the country have called for investigations into the organization and hearings, but to date none have uncovered any evidence that Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken any laws with regard to fetal tissue.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) directed the Department of Health to investigate Planned Parenthood in July. The investigation concluded that the clinic were in compliance with the state’s fetal tissue regulations.
Despite the state clearing Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, anti-choice protesters in Indiana gathered Saturday outside the organization’s clinics.
Silas McClufor, the organizer of the protest outside of the Fort Wayne Planned Parenthood, estimated that about 500 people participated in the protest.
“Planned Parenthood is lying to women and not giving information that they are using the body parts of the aborted babies. They are not telling mothers they are selling these for a profit and we cannot stand for this. Planned Parenthood does not honor women and it doesn’t have respect for human life in the womb,” McClufor told WANE.
All 50 states have adopted the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which also governs tissue and organ donation for therapeutic and research purposes from all dead humans, including aborted fetuses. Many states specifically require pregnant patients consent to the transplant or donation prior to the abortion as opposed to after.
Both Planned Parenthood and StemExpress have stated that all fetal tissue is donated with consent of patients.