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Friday, February 10, 2017

At Planned Parenthood rally Feb. 10, supporters embrace the new activism

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 6:33 PM

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At the edge of Duncan Plaza facing Perdido Street, several protesters formed a wall.

Holding up signs with messages including "No more wire hangers" and "Don't tread on me" (with a drawing of a uterus), they made a human barrier, preventing a small group of counter-protesting anti-abortion activists from entering a rally in support of Planned Parenthood that took place Friday afternoon.

"Taking away people's access to health care is violence," one man said, addressing the counter-protestors.

Inside the plaza, over a hundred people gathered to cheer on Planned Parenthood speakers and to hear more about how to become more active in their support of the organization that provides reproductive health care, cancer screenings, HIV testing and more to thousands of Louisiana women — especially in a political climate that seems particularly unfriendly to the organization's mission.

click to enlarge A Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion activist.
  • A Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion activist.

"I am sick and tired and I'm sure many of you are also sick and tired. ... I'm tired of the unrelenting campaign of hate," Pamela Steeg, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast board member, said. "This isn't about Democrats and Republicans; this is much bigger than that."

Steeg and Petrice Sams-Abiodun, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast's vice president of external services, both emphasized how defunding Planned Parenthood, as house speaker Paul Ryan has called for, would disproportionately harm struggling groups, including people of color and the poor. Sams-Abiodum pointed out that when you talk to health care professionals, they say their patients need more resources, not fewer.

"The most marginalized people are going to suffer," she told Gambit. "Citizens of ours are going to hurt when you take away services. We have to ... hold our elected officials accountable."

click to enlarge Petrice Sams-Abiodun, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast VP of external services.
  • Petrice Sams-Abiodun, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast VP of external services.

At the rally, many participants said events like this are becoming part of a new routine of activism against perceived threats to a broad spectrum of progressive causes, including preserving women's health care and access to abortion.

"Since the election, I have been in four protests, and I have never been in a protest in my life," Meron Azage, a genetic counselor, said. She held a sign quoting a Maya Angelou poem as she described a recent trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the Women's March that took place just after President Donald Trump's inauguration.

"I was feeling very discouraged [before the march]," she said. "When I saw all the people there, I thought, there's still hope. It's not all lost."

Because Azage deals with people with genetic disabilities and parents who detect genetic abnormalities in a fetus, she says access to health care and reproductive choice for women are both important to her. More personally, she wants to protect an organization that helped her when took a job without health insurance.

"Planned Parenthood was there for me when I needed them," she said.

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Tulane University public health student Jessica Conrad wore a cardboard box with the motto "nasty chick" — a play on the "nasty woman" slogan embraced by Hillary Clinton's supporters. Conrad worries about how the loss of Planned Parenthood might harm people who don't have the financial resources to get health care through other outlets, and says she'll continue to be politically active in this and other causes.

"I've been going to a lot of protests lately. ... I don't want to go back to the '50s or '40s," she said.

James Garman, a retired telecommunications professional, said he joined the rally because he fears what may happen to any marginalized group under the new administration.

"As a gay person, I am concerned when infractions come [against] everybody's equal rights," he said. Even though issues pertaining to abortion access and women's health care may not affect him personally, he said, he's concerned with maintaining civil liberties for everyone.

click to enlarge Organizer Ashley Robins.
  • Organizer Ashley Robins.

According to event organizer Ashley Robins, this particular rally was planned as a rebuttal to national anti-abortion groups, who will stage actions and rallies this weekend against Planned Parenthood. As more people mobilize in response to the political climate, she hopes this and other events will push the national dialogue to the left.

"[Before], the right-to-life people were the only people really speaking up about anything," she said. "Basically what we want to do now is be a louder voice."

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