Pro-choice rallies increase

| 04 Apr 2017 | 05:10

A group of anti-abortion activists faced-off against their louder, more numerous pro-choice counterparts outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Greenwich Village early Saturday morning, each side occupying one of the right-angled walkways in a SoHo alley.

Staccato chants of “My body, my choice,” the global pro-choice mantra, reverberated across the cobblestone path and masonry walls of Bleecker Street. Though the pro-life contingent left after just 45 minutes, the pro-choice faction stayed for the entirety of the planned two-hour demonstration. The clash was not a coincidence: the latter showed up specifically to defy and disrupt the former.

The counter-protest was organized by NYC for Abortion Rights, a fledgling pro-choice group founded in early February to combat the Trump administration’s anti-abortion policies through resistance and education, said Delicia Jones, one of the group’s many organizers. At its most recent meeting, leaders spoke to members about the Hyde Amendment, which when enacted in 1977 was among the first pieces of legislation restricting access to abortion by barring some federal funds to pay for the procedure. “Our goal is to physically defend clinics and educate people about the importance of protecting basic reproductive rights,” Jones said.

Since the beginning of March, however, the group has been functioning primarily as a foil to 40 Days for Life, a powerful international organization that rigorously campaigns against abortion by staging vigils and prayers outside Planned Parenthood clinics, including the Bleecker Street clinic. Organizers of NYC for Abortion Rights have been closely monitoring and counter-protesting each vigil planned by the pro-life group.

“I see them as a hate group,” said Danny Katch, a pro-choice protester hoisting a striking “NYC for Abortion Rights” sign. “Women are coming to get health care, and people are attacking them for that.”

Countless pro-choice rallies have erupted across Manhattan in the two months since Donald Trump took office, but Saturday’s edition was particularly salient, as it occurred just two days after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote to grant states the power to defund clinics that provide abortion services. Perhaps just as urgent as the financial cutback, the move could also embolden anti-abortion dissenters to ramp up their intimidation and harassment of patients, pro-choice backers said.

At the showdown on Bleecker Street, an anti-abortion protester, wearing a pink vest that bears striking resemblance to a Planned Parenthood volunteer uniform, stood by the clinic entrance. Neither police nor clinic employees are authorized to chase off disruptive protesters who aren’t inciting violence, Jones explained. She said some anti-abortion protesters, by donning the pink vests, dupe incoming patients and then taunt them. “That’s why we have to be a voice to counter that,” she said.

Two other undisguised pro-lifers were shooed away by the pro-choice camp for attempting to follow a woman leaving the clinic. By the end of the competing rallies, only one woman remained, stoic and silent behind a sign with a Bible verse. “I’m just here to pray,” she said, declining to share her reasons for opposing abortion rights and thoughts on the opposition.

A first time pro-choice activist who identifies by the initials A.G. said groups such as NYC for Abortion Rights provide a crucial sense of security to women seeking reproductive care, which goes far beyond just abortion services. Intimidated by anti-abortion demonstrators, these women could get second thoughts and forgo the procedure, changing the course of their lives, she said. “I see a lot of value in having an active group of people countering the other side, showing patients that there are people looking out for them.”

Assaults on Planned Parenthood pale in comparison to those endured by more obscure, independent clinics, said Emily Hoffman, another organizer of NYC for Abortion Rights. At a counter-demonstration against 40 Days for Life campaigners at Bronx Abortion last month, Hoffman said, clinic employees beseeched organizers to bring in more protesters to protect patients.

“Women don’t just decide to have an abortion on a whim,” Hoffman said. “There are so many reasons why a woman may choose to have an abortion, and we want to ensure that they receive help without getting shamed and harassed.”