Activists on both sides of abortion debate look to larger fight

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Sen. Joyce Krawiec addresses anti-abortion protesters outside of Planned Parenthood in Winston-Salem. (photo by Jordan Green)

About 60 people gathered outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Winston-Salem to call on Congress to defund the agency, while a smaller group showed up to defend women’s right to choose.

Ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood will be a victory, but the ultimate goal remains outlawing abortion altogether, anti-abortion activists vowed during a protest outside the reproductive healthcare provider in Winston-Salem on Feb. 11 as part of a coordinated nationwide action.

“Abortion shouldn’t be legal; it shouldn’t be about choice,” said Samantha Hogan, who organized the protest. “We the people should acknowledge the truth of the matter: Abortion ends lives and hurts society. If we can get the government to stop funding abortions, stop funding companies that perform abortions, we would be that much closer to seeing abortion eliminated altogether. But one step at a time, right?”

About 60 people, including state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, joined the protest. Holding placards reading “Defund Planned Parenthood,” “Moms for Life” and “Dads for Life,” they listened to speakers and prayed in unison.

A smaller group of about a dozen counter-protesters gathered across the street holding hand-made signs with messages like “You are not pro-life — You’re anti-woman,” “Against abortion? Don’t get one,” and “Politicians make crappy doctors — Keep your hands off my wife’s bits.” They interrupted the anti-abortion activists’ rendition of “Amazing Grace” with a chant of “Pro life, that’s a lie. You don’t care if women die.”

Krawiec equated abortion with slavery, invoking a Colonial Era law that differentiated between children born free and those born into bondage.

“Condemning that child to slavery is illegal,” she said, “but condemning that child to death is federally funded — government sanctioned basically.”

Federal law, as codified in the 1976 Hyde Amendment, already prohibits the federal government from funding abortions except in rare exceptions, but abortion foes and lawmakers, including US House Speaker Paul Ryan, have argued that federal funding is fungible and there’s nothing to prevent Planned Parenthood from reallocating funding for its other services to pay for abortions. Ryan said during a CNN townhall in January that the Republican majority in the House wants to shift federal funds from Planned Parenthood to federal community health centers that don’t provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood says that about 60 percent of its patients rely on public health programs like Medicaid and Title X for preventive and primary care, including birth control, sexually transmitted infections tests, Pap smears and mammograms. Cutting off funding would deny care to 2.5 million patients, and the nonprofit argues that federal community healthcare centers don’t have the capacity to absorb them or provide services during hours that are convenient for low-income patients who work irregular shifts or multiple jobs.

“There is a new president, and now they will not be getting money from the federal government,” Barbara Holt, the state president of NC Right to Life, told protesters. She and other speakers applauded the fact that Trump has already signed an executive order cutting off federal funding to international NGOs that advocate for abortion rights, selected a vice president who is an ardent abortion foe, and nominated a Supreme Court justice whom they consider to be “pro-life.”

The speakers also celebrated the fact that the General Assembly passed a law in 2015 that denies state grants to Planned Parenthoods and other groups that perform abortions. Krawiec told the protesters that she expects a bill to come out of the General Assembly this year involving the concept of personhood for fetuses. Voters in Mississippi rejected a referendum to amend the state constitution to provide fetuses with personhood in 2011, and a similar proposal in the Louisiana state legislature was shelved in 2015, according to news reports.

In an interview after the protest, organizer Samantha Hogan, a recent transplant from Virginia Beach, Va., acknowledged that the law already prohibits federal funding that goes directly to pay for abortions and that existing federal funding covers the cost of Planned Parenthood’s family planning services. But she questioned the safety of contraceptive options offered by the nonprofit and said she would rather see women receive counseling to consider adoption as an alternative.

“They’re taking advantage of a population that comes in mostly on Medicaid, a population that’s poor,” Hogan said. “We want that tax funding to go to other community health centers that provide prenatal care and that show women their ultrasounds. Studies have shown that when that happens, they choose life.”

Tina Trutanich, who lives in Winston-Salem, said she felt compelled to show up to support Planned Parenthood, adding that she’s taken advantage of the services provided by the clinic targeted by the protesters.

“Right now we’re in a crisis of women’s rights,” Trutanich said. “We support women and we support a woman’s right to choose. We’re in a time right now when the Supreme Court could take away a woman’s right to choose. We have to organize and educate to make sure that abortion remains a right.”

Holt acknowledged that cutting off government funding to Planned Parenthood would not end abortions.

“Stopping government funding of Planned Parenthood should mean fewer abortions and will strike a blow at Planned Parenthood’s abortion advocacy, but — it’s important to realize this — they will continue to be funded for their abortion services by private donors….”

Josh Grimes, a student at Forsyth Tech, said he looks forward to a day when abortion is illegal, but warned his fellow anti-abortion activists that they will need to step up with financial support and care for “millions of children that will be in need of a home.”

Grimes also counseled encouragement to women, whether or not they choose to undergo an abortion.

“Ladies, if you need help, we are here for you,” he said. “We will be here to help you give that baby life. We will work tirelessly to make sure that you are as successful as you can be. If you choose to go through an abortion, I want to tell you that we will be here for you after you have it. We’re gonna provide care and support because people make mistakes. When the scars of the abortion and the heavy burden that it carries become too much to handle, we will help you carry it. Ladies, you are beautiful, but so are those babies.”