Grand Rapids protesters debate federal funding for Planned Parenthood

By Emily Doran | 2/12/17 10:43pm

Across the United States, anti-abortion demonstrators congregated Saturday, Feb. 11, to demand the federal defunding of Planned Parenthood, and pro-abortion rights advocates responded in kind with their own counter-protests to express their support for the organization.

Grand Rapids was no exception to the list of cities in which these demonstrations occurred. As part of the nationwide protests to defund Planned Parenthood, Grand Rapids Right to Life hosted a demonstration outside the Planned Parenthood on Cherry Street. The anti-abortion demonstrators were vastly outnumbered by pro-abortion rights advocates, however, who showed up with signs, chants and "pussy power hats" reminiscent of the Women’s March on Washington in support of Planned Parenthood.

Hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters lined both sides of the street, sometimes mingling closely together and occasionally engaging in debate. The protests were monitored by the police and did not become violent.

Meanwhile, car drivers enthusiastically honked their support for the pro-abortion rights demonstrators, who held signs defending what they believed to be an issue of women’s bodily autonomy and right to specific forms of health care.

Some of the signs read, “Defend, not defund” and “Family planning saves lives.” The pro-abortion rights demonstrators often erupted into loud chants, as well, declaring, “My body, my choice” and “Women’s rights are human rights.”

The anti-abortion demonstrators came with their own signs, some of which read, “Stop abortion now” and “Defund Planned Parenthood.”

Kate Bleeker, a GVSU graduate holding a “Defund Planned Parenthood” sign, countered the bodily autonomy argument by defending the rights of human embryos and fetuses as unique individuals.

“I am for choices, but not for the choice to end the life that’s inside of you,” Bleeker said. “I do realize that you do have your body and that you are having to carry that child to term—that’s our hope for you and for that child—but the child is a unique human being, 100 percent unique DNA. From the time that the egg is fertilized, it has its own bodily autonomy, in my opinion.”

Bleeker said she wanted to promote a positive image of the anti-abortion movement and dispel common misconceptions about the makeup of the group.

“I want there to be awareness that the pro-life movement is a loving group,” she said. “It’s a group of young women, not old white males, as the cliché goes. (They’re) people that love women and love the unborn, and we want to kind of encourage that dialogue.”

Mark Dykstra, an anti-abortion demonstrator, cited his religious beliefs as a reason for protesting Planned Parenthood.

“I’m here today basically to show my faith as a Christian,” Dykstra said. “I’m strongly in favor of pro-life, and I believe Planned Parenthood hurts women. The majority of their business is abortion, and I’m just trying to stand against abortion. There are so many other alternatives.

“(It’s) easy to just go through life and not take stands, but I felt strongly that if you believe in something, go out and show it.”

Other anti-abortion demonstrators sought to promote alternatives for women experiencing unwanted pregnancies or to provide information on counseling for women who have had abortions.

“My goal was to reach out to women, like many of my friends, who are hurting after abortion, and we wanted to make sure that women knew where to go to find help if they were hurting,” said Melissa Yeomans, who held a banner with a post-abortion care website address. “The pro-lifers that I know, they are so actively engaged in providing health care solutions to women.”

Not all the demonstrators agreed with this image of anti-abortion individuals, however.

“We think that the people who say they are pro-lifers are really pro-birthers,” said Peggy Barbour, a pro-abortion rights demonstrator. “They do not support the unwanted children that are born.”

Some pro-abortion rights demonstrators expressed their desire to maintain federal funding for Planned Parenthood so the organization could continue to offer various health care services, especially for lower-income women, and ideally decrease the number of abortions.

“Would I like to see abortions decrease in numbers?” said Lisa Newhouse, a pro-abortion rights demonstrator. “Absolutely. But I believe a way to do that is providing other resources for women, providing women and family support services. It’s not just by taking away choices because the only person you’re really going to take that choice away from are women who can’t afford any other options. (It’s) the poor woman that’s going to suffer.”

Elizabeth Boessenkool, a retired family physician rallying in support of Planned Parenthood, said many women and girls on Medicaid would not have “any place to go” for their health care needs if Planned Parenthood were defunded.

“I don’t want (Planned Parenthood) to be defunded,” she said. “It’s not all about the issue of choice that everyone’s concerned about. That’s a very small part of Planned Parenthood. But they serve a very important function in the United States, and there’s nobody else left to take care of these people.”

Bleeker said she was protesting the federal funding of Planned Parenthood despite believing that money would not be used to pay for abortions.

“Even though I know that (federal) funding doesn’t go directly to abortions, it still promotes Planned Parenthood, which is one of the largest abortion providers and does most of the abortions in the U.S.,” Bleeker said.

Despite their differences in beliefs, some demonstrators expressed an interest or cautious willingness to collaborate with individuals of opposing views to achieve common goals, such as reducing the number of abortions or promoting women’s health.

“I’m looking for ways to talk to people on the other side,” Boessenkool said. “I’m looking for opportunities to meet people on the other side politically and talk about our common goals.”

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