Carrying Graphic Signs and Spouting Religious Dogma, Phoenix Protesters Lash Out at Planned Parenthood

Carrying gruesome placards and signs that read "Choose Life" and "Just a Clump of Sells," hundreds of anti-abortion activists crowded into a blocked-off street next to a Planned Parenthood office in Central Phoenix on Saturday, part of a nationwide effort by those in the anti-abortion movement to end federal funding for the organization and perhaps close the nonprofit's doors for good.

A similar number of Planned Parenthood supporters rallied in the office's parking lot, just across from the anti-abortion crowd. (See below.)

Protesters were energized by a series of undercover videos filmed and edited by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, which purports to show Planned Parenthood execs and doctors discussing the harvesting and selling of tissue from aborted fetuses. 

Planned Parenthood has countered that the videos only show discussions concerning reimbursements for costs associated with storing and transporting fetal tissue donated by patients. 

However, protesters outside the Phoenix clinic, one of several Planned Parenthood offices targeted in Arizona, were not buying that explanation.

"Planned Parenthood lies to you," another sign read.

The protesters rallied from 9 to 11 a.m., listening to a number of speakers, including local politicos such as Arizona Congressmen Trent Franks and David Schweikert, as well as Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Arizona Republican Party Chair Robert Graham.

Organized locally by Linda Rizzo of Respect Life, a group affiliated with Saint Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church, the rally was overwhelmingly religious, with nuns in habits, priests in clerical collars, and a large wooden crucifix carried by two men. 
Some women held up images of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, while many carried green and white "Defend Life" signs bearing a Knights of Columbus logo. 

One of the first to speak was Father Don Kline, pastor at Saint Joan, who led the crowd in prayer, while across the street, in the shaded parking lot of Planned Parenthood, a DJ played tunes by Gwen Stefani and Steely Dan at the counter-demonstration in support of Planned Parenthood.

Kline asked listeners to pray and fast to "defund and to end Planned Parenthood," and he promised that "we who stand for life" will "continue to challenge public servants and call on them to act to save the unborn."

Next up was Dr. Lori Carrillo, an OBGYN who declared that she was opposed to "abortion of any kind, of any gestational age."

She also condemned abortion providers as having a mindset "similar to the mentality of Nazi Germany," likening abortion to the Holocaust.
Congressman Franks of Arizona's Eighth Congressional District continued the theme, calling the people at Planned Parenthood "butchers" and, while shaking in anger, asserted that by the end of the day, the U.S. would kill "3,000 little babies."

Also on hand was County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who insisted that the videos in question "irrefutably show [that] Planned Parenthood kills children and sells their body parts."

Picking up the religious theme, he warned Planned Parenthood and its supporters that God will torment them.

"The voice of the Holy Spirit will whisper in your soul," he promised. "And you will not be at rest until you reconcile with the truth."

But Congressman David Schweikert of Arizona's Sixth Congressional District scored the brass ring for the oddest tale of the day.

He said he had been given up for adoption by a teenage mom, whom he later met when she was 30. 

Schweikert claimed his biological mother told him how she was on the way to Tijuana to have a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion when she began to hyperventilate.

Her friends turned the car around to get her help, and she did not go to Tijuana. 
"Apparently, a few months later, I was born at Holy Family Unwed Mothers Home in Downtown L.A.," he said.

The audience responded with whoops and applause.

Overwhelmingly, protesters interviewed for this story were true believers, whose opposition to Planned Parenthood was faith-based. They had seen the gotcha videos everyone's talking about, but they tended to be veteran abortion opponents. 

Rebecca Martin of Apologia Church in Tempe was carrying a rather gruesome sign showing dismembered fetus arms clutching a dime. She said that she regularly protests at other Planned Parenthood locations in the Valley and is opposed to abortion in all cases.

The latest anti-Planned Parenthood videos were not a motivator for her. 
"We already knew this was going on," she said. "It's not like we should be shocked by these videos coming out. This has been happening since Roe v. Wade."

Kris and Tom Engelthaler of Phoenix were carrying signs similar to Martin's. Kris had a rosary wrapped around one hand and said she and her husband were Catholic.

She said they had been involved in the anti-abortion movement "for 30 years." Both said they were opposed to all abortions, even if the life of the mother was threatened or in the case of rape.

"The trauma of the rape often stops the ovary from the releasing the egg," she said. "The whole body kind of shuts down. So that's very rare, but it happens. And those babies are just as real and precious as any other baby."
According to many experts, the idea of rape trauma somehow preventing pregnancy is false.

Republican Todd Akin infamously made comments to this effect during his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in Missouri and later apologized for them, though he still lost the election.

Yet Kris Engelthaler seemed sincere in her belief that the information about rape trauma was correct.

Asked if she thought someone could support a woman's right to choose but still be bothered by what they see in the videos of Planned Parenthood's execs, she did not perceive any middle ground in the debate.

"I guess that's their conscience," she said. "But I don't see how once you see it, you could say [abortion is] okay."

By the time the anti-abortion rally was over, the rival pro-Planned Parenthood event was breaking up. Donna Gratehouse, famous for her take-no-prisoners Democratic Diva blog, was on her way out. 
Asked what she thought the significance of the videos were, given that the people who showed up here to protest Planned Parenthood were already abortion opponents —  not newbies convinced by the video — she said: "I think it invigorates their base, really animates them. I think the general public who are not particularly engaged with this issue, probably [are], `Like, what are they babbling about?' I don't think it's changing anyone's hearts and minds."

The controversy over the videos also invigorates friends of Planned Parenthood, who are eager to come to the rescue of the organization.

Jodi Liggett, Planned Parenthood's Director of Public Policy, was nearby. She agreed with Gratehouse that the anti-abortion movement was trying to re-energize itself around de-funding Planned Parenthood and ending legal abortion altogether. The videos are part of this effort.
She pointed out that Planned Parenthood is prohibited by law from using public funding to pay for abortions and that much of what the group does is aimed at reducing the number of abortions that are necessary.

"If you hate abortion, you should love Planned Parenthood," she said. "We do more comprehensive, medically accurate education for kids and more contraception education for teens and adults than anyone."

About Governor Doug Ducey's recent directive aimed at Planned Parenthood, which calls for "emergency rules designed to prohibit the illegal sale of any tissue from an unborn child," Liggett noted that the sale of fetal tissue already is illegal, and that, unlike Planned Parenthood in some other states, Planned Parenthood Arizona does not have a fetal-tissue donation program.
"We're happy to comply with regulations," she said of Ducey's move. "But we do think it was a meaningless exercise."

Liggett agreed that some of the language used in the videos by Planned Parenthood employees was "coarse" and said Planned Parenthood wants its doctors and employees to be sensitive when they discuss such topics. 

But she praised Planned Parenthood doctors, saying they don't do what they do for the money and that they "also get a target painted on their backs," by anti-abortion extremists.

"If we don't have safe, sterile, medically supervised abortion, abortion will not end just because we decide to outlaw it," she said. "It will go underground. I'm too young to remember those days . . . but it was horrific. We can't go back there. We just can't."
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons