by Bill Taverner
Today was my first Planned Parenthood rally. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, because it seems like I’ve been affiliated with Planned Parenthood forever. But the truth is I’ve never been to one of our rallies. I’ve written many articles about the disagreements over abortion, contraception, sex education, and other core services that Planned Parenthood provides. I’ve written editorials and letters to-the-editor. I’ve even had pictures of protesters – both pro choice and anti-choice – on the cover of my book, Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Human Sexuality. And I’ve given trainings in Planned Parenthood facilities that had previously been bombed and rebuilt. But I’ve never actually been to a rally before. It was an experience I will not forget.
The attached photo tells a very incomplete story. There is a smile on my face, and it is true I was in a relaxed mood when I first arrived. The people behind me were smiling and relaxed, too, at least for that moment. But they weren’t there to stand with Planned Parenthood. Their sign says Defund Planned Parenthood,” not Defend Planned Parenthood against the vicious assaults by the New Jersey governor and the U.S. House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the start of the rally offered a festive mood, with Planned Parenthood supporters outnumbering protesters about eight to one.
Shortly after the photo was taken, I offered to trade signs with one of my colleagues who was carrying an enormous sign. It was two-tiered and rose about five feet over my head. I was quickly rewarded for my gallantry by being moved directly in front of the anti-choice crowd, across the podium, to block off the visibility of anti-choice signs. I happily obliged, although the sign was heavy, and the wind made it extra difficult to handle. I was a little concerned about the possibility of being pickpocketed by the protesters who were immediately behind me, separated by nothing more than a strip of police tape.
Everything changed when the podium microphone went on. The protesters became boisterous and vile in exercising their free speech as they tried to disrupt every speaker. They called us “baby killers” and repeatedly shouted “You kill kids.” It was especially alarming to hear this shouting so close to my ears. Some of it was even more sinister and personal. One person screamed, “You’re killing your black baby!” to an African American woman who happened to be visiting the clinic. Other refrains included, “Abortion causes cancer!” and “Not on our dime!” That last one was chanted as one of the speakers discussed the importance of pre-cancer screenings for the poor and uninsured.
As I was engulfed in the rudeness and vitriol of the protesters, somehow, my sign grew lighter. I thought about the millions of women and men who access the spectrum of vital services from Planned Parenthood. I thought about my colleagues and our supporters standing with me, some of whom are harassed day in and day out. I am proud of the work we do. I am proud to stand with Planned Parenthood.
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