After the recent mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado once again thrust the controversial debate about abortion politics into the national media spotlight, local resident Shamus Burns decided to take a stand against the anti-Planned Parenthood vitriol he saw around him by organizing a pro-Planned Parenthood rally.
"I have been pushed too far, and I am going to go to Planned Parenthood and stand opposed to bigotry, religious pressure, and terrorism," Burns wrote on the invitation to his event. "My plan is to go, to bring a sign...and to show those opposed that we aren't afraid."
On Saturday morning, he and about 30 others – many wearing pink and carrying positive signs about women’s rights and the vital to healthcare services offered by Planned Parenthood – gathered in front of the Tempe Planned Parenthood clinic on Apache Boulevard.
Bryan Howard, CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, says he heard about the event through social media and decided to stop by and say hello to supporters.
“It was a really interesting group of people, really diverse,” he tells New Times. “Most people seemed to be in their 20s, but there were a good number of older folks and men there, too… It appeared to be a good a cross section of people from the Tempe area.”
Howard says he was there for about 45 minutes when he realized his presence was attracting the attention of a group of anti-Planned Parenthood protesters gathered nearby in a counter-demonstration.
“I had to leave because I was identifiable to opposing protesters. They started clustering around the group rallying in support [of Planned Parenthood, whereas] up to that point, the groups had been very separated,” he says.
“It just didn’t feel very comfortable; the opponents were trying to insert themselves into the conversation.”
While he always is thrilled to see those rallying in support of Planned Parenthood, Howard says, his number-one concern is the safety and comfort of patients entering the clinic:
“I didn’t want my presence to be the impetus for more confrontation,” he says.
Tensions between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators dissipated as the day went on, and the two groups once again took to different areas near the clinic. Burns' demonstration, while inspired by the massacre at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, also came two days after the U.S. Senate passed a bill to de-fund the organization. The House of Representatives is expected to pass the measure, but President Obama already has promised to veto it when it arrives on his desk.
“There is nothing honest about this attack on funding; it’s built on inaccuracies and fabrications,” Howard says, referring to the series of undercover videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress that purportedly show Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue sales.
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He says the “now-discredited” videos were “highly edited” and points out that despite all of the attention they raised, the majority of Americans still support Planned Parenthood.
A new poll this week by USA Today and Suffolk University found that 58 percent of people in the United States support continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Thirty-three percent said the organization should be de-funded, and 9 percent reported being undecided.
Watch a video from the protest: