As part of a national day of action against Planned Parenthood this Saturday, hundreds of people will protest outside six clinics in Arizona, including four in the Phoenix area. Their plan is to draw attention to what organizers call “the heartless and even illegal activities of Planned Parenthood.”
But they will not be the only ones out there, as hundreds more are expected to stage a counter-protest at Planned Parenthood of Arizona’s headquarters in Phoenix to show their support for the organization.
According to organizers from both sides, the protests in Tempe, Chandler, and Glendale are expected to draw sizable crowds, but the biggest demonstration will be in Phoenix, and they encourage their followers to gather there.
The protests come amid a renewed debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood and an outcry over a series of undercover videos purportedly detailing how the group harvests and sells fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood repeatedly has denied these allegations, saying the highly edited videos distort the truth and propagate lies.
But regardless of what Planned Parenthood officials say or point to as evidence of the organization's safe and legal practices, anti-abortion groups and many elected officials continue to push for an end to federal funding for the organization and have vowed not to give up the fight until the nonprofit shutters once and for all.
In Arizona, legislators from U.S. Senator John McCain to Congressman David Schweikert, who will be at Saturday’s Phoenix protest, publicly have denounced Planned Parenthood for the content of the videos and called for federal investigations.
And recently, Governor Doug Ducey launched an investigation into Arizona clinics for evidence of fetal tissue donation and sales, even though Planned Parenthood of Arizona president and CEO Brian Howard, repeatedly has said the state has no fetal tissue donation program.
Ducey also mandated that anyone providing abortion services now must fill out a form detailing how any removed tissue was disposed of. It duplicates a federal ban on human-tissue sales with a new Arizona emergency statute banning the practice.
But though the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood have centered on whether the videos prove the organization partakes in illegal activities, supporters of Planned Parenthood, including the group organizing this weekend’s counter protests, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, say the assault has much deeper roots.
“This manufactured controversy is nothing more than one more attempt to shut down the nation’s largest provider of health care that enables women to be healthy and chart their own paths in life,” the group writes in a statement.
“Among the organizers’ goals is the elimination of federal funding that enables Planned Parenthood to provide preventive healthcare to thousands of Arizona women and men every year, [even though] no organization does more to prevent unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion than Planned Parenthood.”
According to Planned Parenthood Arizona’s 2014 annual report, state clinics saw more than 59,000 patients, though only 7,100 received abortion-related care.
However, even one abortion is one too many for those affiliated with the pro-life movement, and they repeatedly call for the organization to be shut down.
“Planned Parenthood DOES NOT care about women and the role they play in society. They are the biggest enemy to women and children,” says Lisa Blevins, who's organizing the protest outside of the Tempe Planned Parenthood clinic this weekend.
Blevins says she expects at least 200 people to join her in demonstrating outside of the clinic there, and warned participants in a recent e-mail that it’s likely people will carry signs with graphic abortion images.
“We must be a witness, informing people about Planned Parenthood and how they destroy the bond of love between mother and child,” she adds.
According to ProtestPP, the coalition of anti-abortion groups organizing this weekend’s day of action, protests will take place at 300 Planned Parenthood clinics across all 50 states, and in many cities, protesters will go head-to-head with those who support Planned Parenthood.
Celebrities from Lena Dunham to Julianne Moore to Scarlett Johansson have helped spread the popular #StandwithPP movement, and given the public attention, politicians have been forced to weigh in on the contentious issue. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders “stand with Planned Parenthood,” as does Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego.
"Planned Parenthood provides healthcare services to many women in Arizona's 7th congressional district that otherwise would not have access to care. Republicans want to restrict women's access to health services and dictate the care they receive,” he writes in an e-mail to New Times. “I am proud to support Planned Parenthood and the important work they do. From Pap smears, to cancer screenings, to access to birth control and abortions, Planned Parenthood stands by women and gives them the tools to make their own health decisions."
With hundreds of rallies and thousands of protesters and counter-protesters gathering across the country, it’s unclear what will happen. Both sides have called for peaceful demonstrations, but this contentious issue has a tendency to rile people up.
Sergeant Trent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department confirms that the PPD is aware of the scheduled activities and will take necessary precautions and actions. He declined to comment further on PPD preparations.
“At Planned Parenthood health centers, our nurses, doctors, and staff work tirelessly to ensure that women and families are always able to access affordable, high-quality health care in a safe and caring environment. That's what we will be focused on Saturday — and every day,” states Planned Parenthood Arizona.
“Women should be able to get healthcare without fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation. If these protesters, extremist groups and politicians were truly committed to reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, they would work with Planned Parenthood to increase access to affordable birth control and comprehensive sex education.”
***The “Stand With Planned Parenthood” rally will be held at the organization’s headquarters campus, 4751 North 15th Street in Phoenix at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 22. To protect safety and security, participants will need to provide photo ID to be admitted.
***Day of action protests will be held at the following locations:
-Chandler Planned Parenthood, 610 N. Alma School Road from 9 to 11 a.m.
-Flagstaff Planned Parenthood, 2500 S Woodlands Village Blvd. from 9 to 11 a.m.
-Glendale Planned Parenthood, 5771 W. Eugie from 9 to 11 a.m.
-Phoenix Planned Parenthood Office, 4751 N. 15th St. from 10 to 11 a.m.
-Tempe Planned Parenthood, 1250 E. Apache Blvd. from 9 to 11 a.m.
-Tucson Planned Parenthood, 2120 N. Beverly Ave. from 9 to 10 a.m.