Dueling demonstrations took place outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul on Good Friday as hundreds of abortion opponents marched and sang Christian hymns, while supporters of the politically embattled organization rallied nearby, often cheering and dancing.
Separated by 10 feet and two concrete barriers along Charles Avenue, the contrasting gatherings produced odd juxtapositions, such as when protesters singing "Crown Him With Many Crowns" on one side were drowned out by a PA announcement hawking sweatshirts on the other.
The side-by-side events have become a peaceful tradition, but they come this year at a politically volatile time. On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed legislation allowing states to withhold federal family-planning grants from organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide abortions, undoing a rule issued last year by President Barack Obama.
Whether Minnesota lawmakers will act on this authority is unclear, but Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota receives around $2.7 million each year from the federal government, or about 6 percent of its budget. The organization is prohibited from spending any federal funds on abortions.
The political threats facing Planned Parenthood were reflected in the energy of its supporters, which organizers estimated at about 2,000, said Sarah Stoesz, executive director of the Minnesota chapter. "Since the election, the spontaneous, high-energy outburst of grass-roots organizing far exceeded anything I could ever have hoped to achieve," she said.
Some were there to give thanks for family planning and prenatal care services they received from Planned Parenthood.
Pro-Life Action Ministries has been organizing Good Friday vigils outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul for 34 years and estimated a turnout of 2,500 supporters on Friday, said executive director Brian Gibson. The crowd estimates could not be independently verified.
The vigil is an observation of the Easter story of Jesus' crucifixion — with no protest signs or abortion pictures — and how that story applies to the abortion debate, he said.
Music and even heckling from the other side in some ways enriched the experience, providing a glimpse at the persecution Christ endured, Gibson said. "That is something they don't get. They're helping us."
Planned Parenthood used to shut down on Good Friday, but Stoesz said that action sent the wrong message, so clinical care continued on Friday. Noting that the organization's supporters outside included the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Stoesz said: "Good Friday is not something [to be understood] just from one narrow perspective."
The number of abortions has plummeted in Minnesota since 1980; the 9,861 elective procedures in 2015 were a 48 percent decline from the total in 1980.
Mary Anderson of Albertville has been attending the Good Friday vigils for two decades. Now she has nine children, ages 25 to 7, who take part and join familiar faces in prayers for an end to abortion. "It's … praying with people who've become like an extended family," she said.
Leah Renner of Lindstrom was on the Planned Parenthood side, chasing her 2-year-old daughter, who was wearing Wonder Woman jammies. Renner said she wanted to support Planned Parenthood, which provided her contraception when she was younger and family planning and prenatal care later when she became pregnant.
"This baby," she said, "is the epitome of what Planned Parenthood does."