As political strife continues, Planned Parenthood serves as latest protest battleground

An anti-abortion protest at Sacramento’s Planned Parenthood regional office Saturday morning was swamped by a larger crowd of abortion-rights demonstrators in the latest social battle in a deeply divided political environment.

The anti-abortion demonstration was part of a national effort at roughly 200 sites across 44 states to call on President Donald Trump and Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

At the Planned Parenthood Mar Monte regional office on 29th Street in midtown Sacramento, about 15 anti-abortion protesters gathered Saturday to recite prayers and hold signs with messages like “Please Choose Life” and “Pray to end abortion.”

But activists supporting Planned Parenthood showed up in much larger numbers, three weeks after a strong turnout at last month’s Women’s March on Sacramento. Roughly 200 people stood on the sidewalk of the midtown clinic on 29th Street on Saturday, many donning pink garb in solidarity with the organization. A small stereo played music in the background as protesters chanted, “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!”

The two sides stood on opposite sides of the street, and they generally avoided direct confrontation.

Two other protests occurred in the city, one at the clinic on Franklin Boulevard off Fruitridge Road and another at the downtown facility near the Capitol.

Five women formed a prayer circle under the Planned Parenthood sign on 10th Street downtown for two hours, according to Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California and a Planned Parenthood supporter. By 11 a.m., no anti-abortion protesters remained at the Capitol center. However, around 60 Planned Parenthood backers continued to demonstrate in solidarity with the organization, dressed in all pink and holding signs.

There were no interactions between the prayer circle and the Planned Parenthood supporters, Wright said.

Across the region, anti-abortion organizers listed Woodland, Roseville and North Highlands Planned Parenthood clinics as additional locations that would be targeted by religious groups. The health care facility provides abortions among a host of other services, such as the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptive services and LGBT services, at a low cost.

Susan Money, director for the Sacramento chapter of 40 Days for Life, an international group to end abortion, said Saturday’s rally was held to urge politicians to halt the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. She said she would support transferring the money to other clinics as long as they didn’t fund abortions.

“The big picture is that we stand for life,” Money said. “We stand for the health and well-being of women.”

Money held a booklet with photographs of women she said she’s talked out of abortion. She cited a lack of support from their partners or financial struggles as reasons why some women go through with the procedure.

“We’re the voice for the voiceless,” she said. “These babies can’t speak for themselves.”

Vanessa Niño-Tapia, an abortion rights supporter, said the counter-rally was intended to show solidarity with Planned Parenthood.

Raised in a strict, religious household, Niño-Tapia said she had not received sex education growing up until she walked into her first Planned Parenthood clinic while in college. After two pregnancy scares, her friend suggested she go to the health care facility, where she was tested and given information about contraceptives.

“I would not have been able to do that without Planned Parenthood,” she said.

The midtown rally remained peaceful for most of the morning, with many protesters from both sides making it clear that they did not want violence. Those standing in support of Planned Parenthood chanted “do not engage” several times throughout the morning.

Four people wearing sunglasses and scarves over their faces arrived at around 10:15 a.m. and began yelling at anti-abortion activists. An abortion rights supporter wearing pink came over and said, “These people do not represent us” to the 15-person group.

About half of the anti-abortion protesters left their rally shortly after they were approached by the four people. The face-covered protesters left shortly after as well.

When asked why they were leaving, Money responded, “There’s a different element that came into play.”

Robin Opsahl contributed to this report. Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets