By Olivia Arnold, editor-in-chief
Outside Planned Parenthood’s health center on Commonwealth Avenue Saturday morning, dozens of people stood in freezing flurries clutching rosaries, bowing their heads in prayer and holding signs – some depicting fetuses or mangled infants – reading “Defund Planned Parenthood” and “Face it, abortion kills babies.” Nearby, separated by a Boston Police Department (BPD) officer, dozens more counter-protested with signs reading “My body, my choice” and chants such as “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, right-wing bigots go away!”
The anti-abortion protest in Boston was part of a national day of action held at 225 Planned Parenthood clinics in 45 states calling on Congress and President Donald J. Trump to defund Planned Parenthood. The Commonwealth Avenue protest was organized by two groups: 40 Days for Life Boston and Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.
“We’re joining a rally for the national defunding of Planned Parenthood,” said Don Bryant, a 67-year-old Pembroke, Massachusetts, resident who also attended the March for Life in Washington. “And of course, as you know, as the generations turn younger, the arguments for pro-life turn staler […] We’re keeping that debate alive, and welcome those who think otherwise.”
The coinciding pro-abortion protest in Boston, called “Resist the Bigots – Counter Protest for Human Rights,” was organized by the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump (C.O.M.B.A.T.), a group of students, artists and workers that aims to “creatively resist all forms of oppression,” according to the group’s Facebook page. It was also endorsed by the Boston branch of the International Socialist Organization and the Party for Socialism and Liberation Boston.
“I think especially given this moment where you have Trump from the top trying to tamper women’s right to choose, it’s critical that we come out and support women’s right to choose,” said Kristen Martin, 25, a first-year graduate student studying education at Boston University. “And there’s actually a pro-life protest here right now that we want to shut down and drag them out of town for good.”
The protests began at 9 a.m. behind a BPD barricade a few feet away from Planned Parenthood’s entrance. The anti-abortion protesters led a prayer vigil, in which participants bowed their heads in prayer and sang hymns. Meanwhile, the pro-abortion protesters chanted, “Pray, you’ll need it. Your cause will be defeated” and “Pro-life men, you’ve gotta go. When you get pregnant, let us know!”
Roberta Richards, a 78-year-old Brockton, Massachusetts, resident, said she came to Planned Parenthood to “protest the killing of babies.” Richards also attended the March for Life in Washington, which she called peaceful and beautiful.
“I don’t think they know what they’re doing today,” Richards said of the pro-abortion protesters on Commonwealth Avenue.
Seven BPD officers and five volunteer clinic escorts wearing bright pink vests stood in front of the Planned Parenthood building to ensure protesters did not cross the barricade and patients were able to enter the clinic.
Off to the side of the Planned Parenthood, one anti-abortion protester held a nearly six-foot sign depicting a bloody and mutilated infant. In response, two pro-abortion protesters unfurled a banner reading “Abortion on demand and without apology” and held it a few feet away from the anti-abortion banner.
There were some tense moments during the protests, but they were peaceful, with members from both sides expressing sentiments that their counterparts had the right to protest.
“They have a right to speak their opinions and we have a right to speak our opinions right next to them,” said Micah Jasny, 25, a pro-abortion protester who works as a stewardship manager at the Esplanade Association, a Boston nonprofit group that maintains the Charles River Esplanade.
But it seemed not all pro-abortion rights activists and health care providers agreed with C.O.M.B.A.T.’s counter-protest strategy. The Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts publicly asked C.O.M.B.A.T. multiple times on their Facebook event to move the location of the rally away from their clinic.
“While it is exciting to see so many supporters eager to take action, we strongly discourage these types of counter-protests directly outside of our health centers,” the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts wrote. “Any form of protest outside of our health centers, even in support of our mission, is not beneficial to our patients. Our patients are simply trying to access their health care, so having demonstrators of any kind outside the health center can be intimidating for them.”
Akuna Eneh, 34, one of the pro-abortion protesters, said she respects Planned Parenthood and was a patient at the Commonwealth Avenue clinic a number of times herself, but she disagreed with the organization on the best strategy for protecting abortion rights. Eneh, a Northeastern 2005 alumna, held a pink sign during the counter-protest reading, “Women must decide. Not: Trump, church, state.”
“We’re actually losing abortion rights, you know, state by state, so we need a strategy that’s way more […] directly opposing the right-wing,” said Eneh, who works as a librarian at the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library. “So I think that’s why it’s important to still be out here even though [Planned Parenthood is] against that strategy. We need a new strategy.”
Photo by Olivia Arnold