Numbers represented power Saturday for Planned Parenthood as thousands of supporters dwarfed a smaller rally of abortion foes at the nonprofit’s regional headquarters in St. Paul.
The “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” demonstration was organized in reaction to rallies nationwide by abortion foes, who want federal funding for Planned Parenthood ended. Similar rallies by both sides took place in Rochester, Mankato and Duluth, as well as across the country.
Both sides have been galvanized by the election of President Donald Trump, who opposes federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Federal dollars don’t pay for abortions, but Planned Parenthood is reimbursed by Medicaid for other services it provides, including birth control and cancer screening. Still, abortion foes have long tried to cut the group’s funds, arguing that the reimbursements help subsidize abortions.
At the height of the St. Paul gathering, police estimated that 6,000 people were behind the facility at 671 Vandalia St. Most were there in support of Planned Parenthood, with 250 to 400 people in the “Defund PP Rally.”
“I would’ve liked to have had the thousands that were in the other group at the other end, but that’s the way it is,” said Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, which organized the local anti-abortion rally.
Planned Parenthood supporters, many of whom were decked out in pink and carrying pink signs, called for accessible reproductive care for women, including access to abortion. Chanting and singing, they marched slowly in a circle inside their designated space. The anti-abortion group, gathered in a smaller space just yards away, prayed, sang and chanted, “Defund Planned Parenthood!”
While some chants were pointed — some Planned Parenthood supporters intoned “Tax the church!” and “Defund Pence!” — the rallies stayed separate and peaceful.
Mary Morse Marti and her husband, Jim, of St. Paul, attended to advocate for Planned Parenthood.
“I see our country making a very sharp right turn, and I worry that our rights … are under threat,” said Morse Marti, 56.
Jim Marti, 59, said Planned Parenthood has been a leader in providing safe abortion services. “Abortion has to be safe and legal. If it is illegal, it could be deadly,” he said.
Jacquelyn Willodson, 30, of White Bear Lake, was praying with her family in the anti-abortion group. She said she volunteered for Planned Parenthood in 2013 but concluded it did not take proper care of women.
“Abortion should be illegal,” she said. “It is taking the life of an innocent human being.”
However, banning abortion isn’t enough, Willodson said, holding her 2-year-old daughter, Aurelia. “We need to work together connecting everyone to the one true faith. That is what will save us all.”
Pro-Life Action Ministries has a mid-April Good Friday rally planned behind the Planned Parenthood building.
Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said Saturday’s crowd of abortion opponents was much smaller than those at past rallies.
“They are a fraction of what they normally are,” she said. “I certainly take that to mean that the grass-roots political momentum has clearly shifted … toward support for Planned Parenthood.”
Gibson said the mid-April rally will take place as planned. “This is the start of the process to bring this to an end,” he said. “There’s a great deception of what Planned Parenthood is.”
Planned Parenthood operates 18 clinics in Minnesota, 21 in Wisconsin, 12 in Iowa and one in South Dakota — only one of which provides abortions. Of the 9,861 abortions recorded by the Minnesota Health Department in 2015, more than half — 5,048 — were performed there.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.