Across Arizona, hundreds of Planned Parenthood supporters gathered in front of health clinics, politicians' offices, and on college campuses in defiance of those threatening to shut down the federal government and defund Planned Parenthood.
Their rallies Tuesday were part of a nationwide movement called Pink Out Day, in which more than a million people attended 300-plus events to "stand with Planned Parenthood."
In Arizona, while the biggest gathering was in Tucson, a crowd of men and women — all wearing pink — came out to the Glendale Planned Parenthood clinic.
Across the street, a handful of protesters stood with their own anti-abortion signs and prayed.
The two groups stared each other down while sweating in the heat.
Of all the Planned Parenthood clinics in the Valley, the Glendale location tends to be the one most frequented by demonstrators because it’s one of two facilities in the area that offer abortions, plus the building is set back a bit from the street, so there's ample sidewalk space for protestors.
But unlike in past rallies, when strong words were thrown around and debate ensued, the groups in Glendale remained cordial. With the exception of a priest who walked over to the Pink Out celebration and asked to pray for the group, the two sides mostly stuck to their respective sides of the street, and many seemed to be focusing more on the bigger national debates at play than on each other.
Protesters on both sides, for instance, had strong feelings about Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards' congressional testimony Tuesday morning, as well as the now-infamous series of undercover videos purportedly showing that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue.
At one point, however, an older woman crossed the street to intercept a young man and woman as they were approaching the clinic, and engage them in conversation.
“You’re worth it, honey,” the woman said again and again — she addressed the young man too, but he laughed it off. “God’s rules haven’t changed; he still wants you to wait.”
The patient squirmed and looked around, unsure if she could walk away from a woman telling her to abstain from sex until marriage.
Planned Parenthood staff watched the interaction closely from a few yards away, and one employee walked over to check on the situation when it became apparent that the girl looked uncomfortable.
“Are you okay? Are you coming to the clinic?” the Planned Parenthood official asked her.
“I, uh, yeah — I’m here to pick up my birth control,” she responded timidly.
“”You don’t have to listen to her,” the official said, titling her head toward the protester.
“I’m just talking to her,” the older woman snapped back. “I can do that.”
“I know, I’m just trying to make sure you’re not harassing her.”
The older woman looked rebuffed by the suggestion.
“I just want to get my birth control,” the younger patient said quietly. The man she was with ushered her toward the clinic while she continued to look nervous and apologize.
John McDonald O’Lear, director of development for the clinic, said, in the wake of the recent political drama surrounding the undercover Planned Parenthood videos, the clinic has started talking about providing escorts for patients.
He conceded that perhaps the one benefit to "this whole defunding thing has [been that it's] brought out people to rally around Planned Parenthood," but added that shutting down the federal government would be "crazy" and cause a lot of damage.
“The Republicans are all about defunding [healthcare] and education,” another Pink Out Day supporter, Taylor Finch chimed in. “There’s nothing pro-life about that.”
But Vanessa Tadesco, one of greater Phoenix's more outspoken anti-abortion advocates, didn’t see it like that. She came to Glendale clinic dressed in black because she’s spent years regretting her decision to get an abortion, and now wants to see abortion services shut down once and for all — and at any cost.
As far as she’s concerned, failing to stop Planned Parenthood funding is worth shutting down the government: “Absolutely. It is absolutely worth it. We’ve gone to war for other genocides, why not this one?” she said.
“There is no need to have a shutdown, all they need to do is stop funding Planned Parenthood,” Sheila Riely, an employee of the Life Choices Women’s Clinic and friend of Tadesco’s countered. “There are so many other places they could fund, places both sides can agree on…and that [with the exception of abortion] provide the same services as Planned Parenthood.”
She is confident that there are viable —and she would argue, better — options for women and men.
“I think women are better than this. We can control our fertility without getting abortions,” she said.
A little while later, while standing in her clinic’s mobile ultrasound van around the corner, she said that with the rise of contraceptives, the abortion rate has gone up as well because women no longer wait for committed and loving relationships before having sex.
“There are babies dying; this is a big issue,” she added. “Luckily, the science is on our side.”
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