As part of the nationwide 40 Days for Life movement, local anti-choice activists have gathered outside Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids. Throughout the 40 days, which last from September 26 to November 4, the prayer vigils are being conducted each Monday throughout October during business hours at the Planned Parenthood office.
According to local organizer Marlene Rowe, the main purpose of these demonstrations is to “pray to end abortion in our country.”
Around 1 p.m. on Monday, despite the dreary, drizzly weather, three protestors marched back and forth in front of the clinic’s office off of Hwy 2 on the west side of town. Holding signs that read “Abortion Kills Children” and “Jesus Forgives and Heals,” they quietly paced on the public space by the street so as to not trespass on the Planned Parenthood property. They did what they could to stay out of the way, and they are not allowed to talk to patients unless approached and asked questions.
Since 2007, 40 Days for Life has linked individuals and organizations across the country who oppose abortion to hold united protests and vigils outside clinics that perform the procedure.
Locally, for the second year in a row, members of numerous different churches in the greater Grand Rapids area have joined together to have a presence outside Planned Parenthood. This location was picked despite the fact that no abortions are conducted at this site. This fact being recognized by both Rowe as well as those actively protesting, the reason given for their presence outside the clinic is because they give referrals for abortions. No other clinics are being protested in the area though. Nationwide, Planned Parenthood has become a symbol in the fight to end abortion, making it a useful target for the protests.
Jen Aulwes, Media Relations Director for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said that the protests were unfortunate because they “may intimidate patients that are simply seeking health care,” such as breast exams and other preventative health care measures. Elsewhere in the state, Aulwes said that similar demonstrations associated with 40 Days for Life were being conducted in St. Paul, Bemidji, and St. Cloud.
When asked for comment on the potential intimidation factor of the protests, Rowe said that she had no comment, but simply added patients are welcome to approach the protestors, and that “we will not approach them in any way to intimidate them.”
The group’s means of reducing abortion is limited to prayer and fasting, and when asked their thoughts on contraception, those actively protesting on Monday said that they were not for such means to reduce abortion numbers. One woman, who asked to not be named, but who identified herself as Catholic and a follower of Catholic teaching, said that hormonal contraception had the means of being equivalent to abortion. When asked about condoms, she acknowledged that they aren’t as bad as abortions, but are still not something to be used.
Regarding the clinic’s active role in promoting contraception, Aulwes noted that “Planned Parenthood does more in one day to prevent unintended pregnancy, and therefore the need for abortion, than these protestors do in a lifetime.”