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Planned Parenthood demonstrations spark debate

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Planned Parenthood demonstrations spark debate

Students made their own signs to protest pro-life demonstrations on campus. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Lepro.

Students made their own signs to protest pro-life demonstrations on campus. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Lepro.

Students made their own signs to protest pro-life demonstrations on campus. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Lepro.

Students made their own signs to protest pro-life demonstrations on campus. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Lepro.

By Elizabeth Lepro, Emily Brindley and Mark Pesto / Pitt News Staff

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Students on both sides of the Planned Parenthood debate demonstrated today on the William Pitt Union lawn.

Students for Life of America, a national organization, and Choose Life at Pitt, a Pitt student organization, staged a demonstration calling to defund Planned Parenthood from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the lawn of the William Pitt Union. The organizations set up 857 tiny pink crosses on the lawn to signify the amount of abortion procedures Planned Parenthood does every day, according to Planned Parenthood’s annual 2013-2014 report. In front of the crosses, statistics and quotes stood out in white script on vibrant pink banners.

As the roughly 20 anti-Planned Parenthood demonstrators packed up just after 2 p.m., about 25 Pitt students put together their own impromptu demonstration with hand-made signs, featuring slogans like “Take your ignorance off my campus” and “fund planned parenthood.”

These counter-demonstrators lined up in front of the original demonstrators, along the edge of the WPU lawn, and chanted slogans as they prepared to leave.

The initial pro-life demonstration was part of Students for Life of America’s Don’t Fund Planned Parenthood national tour of college campuses, which features a pink double decker bus with the words “Don’t Fund Planned Parenthood” in white on the side. The tour stopped at Clemson on Monday, at UNC-Chapel Hill on Tuesday and at the University of Virginia on Wednesday.

Neither Planned Parenthood nor the University could be reached for comment in time for publication.

The national organization reached out to Choose Life at Pitt, according to the student group’s president, Brieanna Shawver.

Shawver, a senior emergency medicine major, said many students misunderstand her mission.

“We don’t want to take money from women’s healthcare, not at all,” Shawver said, adding that Choose Life just doesn’t want federal funding going towards abortion. She said she wants federal funds to go towards other women’s healthcare centers that don’t provide abortions.

Behind Shawver and her fellow demonstrators stood banners with facts from the annual Planned Parenthood report, including “Planned Parenthood makes an annual $150.6 million in revenue per year from abortions.” The banners also had quotes from pro-life lawmakers.

At least five officers from the University of Pittsburgh Police Department were present as members of the two sides argued.

Pitt student Daneya Johnson was one of the first counter-protestors on the scene.

“If we cannot go to Planned Parenthood, where can we go?” Johnson asked. She said that Planned Parenthood is often the only option for cancer screenings, pregnancy tests and fetal health tests for women without health insurance.

Johnson congratulated her fellow counter-protestors in a bullhorn-amplified speech after the demonstration broke up.

“Congratulations to us,” Johnson said, “because we are here now, and they are not. Without you guys, we wouldn’t have our rights, and we wouldn’t have our bodies.”

Shawver said she scheduled the anti-Planned Parenthood demonstration to end when it did and that it wasn’t driven away by its opponents.

Emily Crosby, a professor in Pitt’s communications department, said her students let her know about the demonstration during her introduction to gender, sexuality and women’s studies class. She came to the lawn to observe the counter-demonstration.

One of Crosby’s students, Olivia Guinette, made a sign and joined the counter-demonstration. Guinette said she was particularly frustrated by Students for Life’s implications that Planned Parenthood makes mass profits from abortions.

Ava Mosbacher, a Pitt student who participated in the pro-life demonstration, objected to the counter-protesters’ language.

“A couple of them were very vile, using the f-word and stuff like that,” Mosbacher said.

Mosbacher also said the event to defund Planned Parenthood wasn’t a “protest,” but was instead meant to be a forum for peaceful discussion.

A national debate over the practices of Planned Parenthood’s abortion services came from videos taken by members of Center for Medical Progress, a pro-life group, in which Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services allegedly advocates for the sale of aborted fetuses.

The videos circulated the country and caused what  Mosbacher said was a “catalyst” for today’s anti-Planned Parenthood demonstration.

“I watched the videos. They make me seriously sick to my stomach,” Shawver said, adding that she’s a paramedic who’s worked in hospitals and seen some gruesome medical procedures.

The scenery at the initial demonstration, from the  tiny crosses on the lawn to the banners, was bright pink — the same vibrant color that Planned Parenthood adopted as part of its brand. Students standing near the demonstration said they were initially drawn in by the colors because they thought it was a Planned Parenthood sponsored event.

“The pink seems to trick you into thinking it’s Planned Parenthood,” Kate Eldridge, a freshman psychology major, said.

Beth Rahal, a Pregnant on Campus coordinator, said the pink was purposeful.

Rahal said drawing students in who may disagree with the message of the event was a useful tool for starting conversations.

She spent around 20 minutes having a civil discussion about the pros and cons of defunding Planned Parenthood with Jasmine Green, a junior natural sciences major, who said Planned Parenthood is too valuable a resource to defund.

“Taking funding away leaves women in the dark,” Green said. “It’s like a brand name.”

Rahal, who is a working mother, said her goal is to teach women that they don’t have to make a choice between having a job and having a child.

“We’re in the 21st century, and as much as [women] are told we can do anything, there is an unbelievable bias against pregnant and parenting students,” Rahal said. “I believe parenting doesn’t have to change your goals.”

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Planned Parenthood demonstrations spark debate