We knew 2017 was going to be a big year for the pro-life movement, but we had no idea it would be this big.
As the year began we at the Pro-Life Action League were excited to take advantage of the new political climate and make some big gains for the cause of life. With a pro-life Congress and a new presidential administration that looked to be more friendly to the pro-life cause, the wind was at our back.
Defunding Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion chain, has been one of the pro-life movement’s most urgent priorities for years, but it was only a dream under President Obama, who last year vetoed a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood.
Defunding battle comes sooner than expected
We were expecting a battle over their funding to take place in the fall of 2017, the time of year when previous budget battles had taken place. But we were happy to be proven wrong about that when Pro-Life Action League executive director Eric Scheidler learned that the battle to defund Planned Parenthood might actually be happening much sooner than expected.
Pro-life lobbyists in Washington wanted pro-lifers to know that this fight was coming, and asked if we could reignite the #ProtestPP coalition, the group that had led nationwide protests in the wake of the undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood executives selling aborted babies’ body parts for profit to medical researchers.
The reason they called Eric was that in the last five years, the League has organized over a dozen nationwide pro-life events in hundreds of cities, bringing hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers out to the streets to pray, protest, rally and even sing. It’s become an area of expertise, and we were happy to once again put our expertise to work to bring out the pro-life grassroots.
#ProtestPP flies into action
Needless to say, Eric jumped at the chance, and after consulting with his fellow #ProtestPP co-directors, Mark Harrington of Created Equal and Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, a date of Saturday, February 11 was chosen to call for a nationwide #DefundPP rally to take place outside Planned Parenthood centers from coast to coast.
We immediately set to work crafting a strategy to make the nation sit up and take notice of Planned Parenthood’s massive taxpayer funding and send the clear message that Congress must immediately remove their funding and re-route it to the over 10,000 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) around the country that provide a wider range of services and a higher standard of healthcare than Planned Parenthood, and do not perform abortions.
On January 13, with less than a month to go until the rally date, we contacted our network of local leaders around the country asking them to come on a conference call to announce the rally effort and ask them to lead a rally in their town.
Training new leaders to face the opposition
As leaders began to sign on and training and preparations for the rally began, a new wrinkle arose.
After the huge Women’s March on January 21 that brought out millions of people in major cities fueled by a general discontent at the outcome of November’s elections, we began receiving calls from local leaders who were learning about counter-protest activities in their city from emails or Facebook events. Some were intimidated by the numbers of people who said they were “Interested” or “Attending” the events. Clearly the elections and the Women’s March had activated the left in a way we had never seen before.
Not about to be intimidated out of rallying to #DefundPP by opposition forces, we stepped up our leadership training with special instructions on how to deal with counter-protesters and why their presence can actually be a good thing since it draws the attention of the media and often simply serves to make our rallies look bigger.
With training in place for these new circumstances, we headed toward the rally date promoting the event everywhere possible—on the radio, social media, emails, and interviews in the press. The existence of counter-protests made getting the attention of the press a snap. In the days before the rally, interview requests from mainstream media outlets and even liberal media were pouring in.
Ironically, the other side’s attempt to thwart our efforts turned out to be the thing that allowed us to spread our message on a much larger scale than we could have done on our own!
In the midst of all this, we designed a new “Defund Planned Parenthood” banner, and had thousands of protest signs printed reading “Defund Planned Parenthood,” “Planned Parenthood LIES to You” and “Stop Abortion Now,” which we shipped to our leaders around the country to create a unified visual ethos to the protest.
Huge crowds, counter-protesters, and witches on Rally Day
The day of the rally we hit the ground running with 229 locations nationwide. Counter protesters did come out in much more significant numbers than we’ve ever seen before, outnumbering pro-lifers significantly in at a few sites, though their overall numbers appeared much fewer than ours nationwide.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, where both Brian Gibson of Pro-Life Action Ministries and Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America spoke, a huge crowd of 450 pro-lifers was outnumbered by nearly 2,000 Planned Parenthood supporters—some even dressed as witches!
In San Francisco, California a group of 100 pro-lifers contended with a sizable group of counter-protesters, many of whom shouted obscenities and carried signs supplied by the International Socialist Orgnaization.
In Washington, DC, pro-lifers had obtained a permit to march from the Supreme Court to Planned Parenthood’s brand new DC facility, and police had to physically restrain 60 Planned Parenthood supporters who attempted to link arms across the street to block the pro-life march.
Despite their unusually large numbers at this event, the coutner-protesters’ aggression and their attachment to vulgarity and bizarre occult symbols worked in our favor, since many people who didn’t know much about Planned Parenthood before now associate those distasteful images with Planned Parenthood and their supporters.
The League held our rally at Planned Parenthood’s flagship mega-center in Aurora, Illinois, a massive 22,000 square foot building that has been the epicenter of civic controversy and lawsuits ever since it opened nearly ten years ago. A fantastic crowd of 400 pro-lifers came out, along with a small crowd of a few dozen Planned Parenthood supporters.
The event went worldwide as well, with rallies in London, England and Brisbane, Australia!
All told, over 15,000 people attended a #Defund Planned Parenthood rally on February 11, an amazing turnout given the time of year and the incredibly short notice on which the rallies had to be planned.
The start of a national conversation
But the true purpose of the rallies wasn’t attendance numbers; it was to ignite a national conversation in the media about Planned Parenthood and why they need to be defunded, and that goal was accomplished in spades. Coverage came on a national scale from outlets like the New York Times, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the New Yorker, and TIME Magazine. Many smaller markets that had never had any media coverage of previous pro-life events received local media coverage like Charlottesville, Virginia; Tempe, Arizona; Dayton, Ohio; and Ottawa, Illinois.
Millions of people were reached by the media impact of this protest, and now, as Congress moves forward with defunding, they have a focal point of public opposition to Planned Parenthood that they can refer to.
Moving forward, we’re urging all pro-life people to contact their Representatives and Senators in Congress and tell them to support the Congressional effort to defund Planned Parenthood, as well as educating themselves on Planned Parenthood and their funding so they can talk to friends and neighbors about the issue. Find contact numbers for Congress and a sheet of talking points to educate yourself at ProtestPP.com.
Who’s really helping women?
One story from February 11 really sums up the difference between Planned Parenthood and pro-lifers, and I’d like to give it to you in the words of our local leader Camille, who led the rally in Victorville, California:
We had about 40 people attend our Protest PP and prayer rally. There were approximately 15 people in opposition, it remained peaceful. Towards the end of our rally a young mother with her child approached our group. She had just been evicted from a motel because the father of her child had shown up and trashed her room.
A few of us gathered together and provided a little bit of money, a warm jacket and a list of resources. One lady gave this young mom and her child a ride to a place where she could get immediate help. Funny how pro-life people are accused of only being pro-birth by the pro-choice people. This young mom came to the pro-life side and received help and prayer!
Thanks to the thousands who came out around the country! Let’s stay active and keep up the fight until we finally defund Planned Parenthood.