Updated Feb. 13, 6 p.m. -- Competing demonstrations focused on Planned Parenthood took place across Colorado on Saturday. The actions were the latest in a growing number of political protests that have occurred since President Donald Trump’s inauguration last month.
Attention turned to reproductive health after ProtestPP, a coalition of groups opposed to abortion rights, organized 225 demonstrations in 45 different states including Colorado. Besides Denver, protests were also planned for Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.
The Associated Press reported about 200 opponents of abortion rights showed up outside the Planned Parenthood Denver clinic, along with several dozen Planned Parenthood supporters. In downtown Denver there was a separate rally in support of Planned Parenthood that drew what appeared to be more than 1,000 people.
In late January, a march for women's rights, including reproductive rights, filled Civic Center Park and surrounding streets. It was part of a global action that included a rally in Washington, D.C., that drew a crowd larger than that of Trump's inauguration.
Federal law already prohibits taxpayer-funded abortions at Planned Parenthood. This new effort aims to take away all federal funding for the clinics, which provide reproductive and related health services to women. According to Planned Parenthood, about 3 percent of the services it provided in 2014 were abortion-related.
Leslie Hanks of Centennial joined one of the events outside a large Planned Parenthood clinic in North Denver. She’s glad congressional Republicans have pledged to strip federal funding from the health network, but isn’t so sure about Trump’s position on the issue.
“I don’t believe he is pro-life,” she said. “I really hope he does the right thing and I really hope Planned Parenthood is defunded.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has said the coming effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would include cuts to federal funding for Planned Parenthood. As NPR has detailed, more than $500 million goes to the organization The majority comes through Medicaid reimbursements and Title X, the federal family planning program.
Bethany Janzen, the Rocky Mountain Regional Coordinator of Students for Life, spoke at the event in Denver. She wants to see those federal dollars redirected to health centers that don’t provide abortions.
“Federally qualified health centers provide birth control, they provide health screenings for sexually transmitted diseases -- they provide the same services as Planned Parenthood and many, many more -- except abortions,” she said.
The Washington Post has reported that it’s not clear federally qualified health centers could absorb the non-abortion work Planned Parenthood already does. Ryan and activists like Janzen like to point out that there are 20 health clinics for every Planned Parenthood location. Even so, the centers tend to provide fewer contraceptive services like birth control.
Planned Parenthood of Colorado serves over 80,000 at 20 clinics across the state according to The Coloradoan. A third of those patients use Medicaid to pay for health services like STD testing, contraception and cancer screenings. (Federal dollars can’t be used for abortions under a long-standing policy). Those patients might have to pay out of pocket or seek care elsewhere if Planned Parenthood’s federal dollars get cut.
Planned Parenthood supporter Brenda Vee told the Associated Press Saturday she was worried about low-income women losing access to the organization's health care services, and about women losing control over their own health.
Tiffany Caudill, a healthcare worker from Lakewood, said she feared just such a scenario and so she helped organize a protest in downtown Denver to show solidarity with Planned Parenthood.
“It is a woman’s choice to decide what her future will look like,” she said. “For anybody with a religious belief to think that it is in their power to take that choice away -- it’s immoral and we won’t stand for it.”
At first, Caudill said her group wanted to protect patients from pro-life protesters outside of Planned Parenthood clinics. Officials with the health clinic asked her not to, citing concerns that large crowds and conflict would strain their security team and distress patients entering the clinic.
She still hopes the demonstration at Skyline Park in downtown Denver outside the office of Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner sends a clear message to the defund Planned Parenthood movement.
“This is our response to them to let them know that we won’t stand by while they attack our healthcare,” Caudill said.
The rally’s other purpose was to move Gardner from his previous support of plans to defund Planned Parenthood. Many took the time to sign their name to a large poster asking for the senator’s support. Others wrote letters.
In 2015, Gardner voted to strip funding after controversial undercover videos by an anti-abortion advocacy group cast a negative light on Planned Parenthood and the way it procured fetal tissue for research. He said he could not “line the coffers of an organization under increased scrutiny for reprehensible, inhumane behavior.”
FactCheck.org and numerous news organizations later challenged the conclusions of those videos based on what Planned Parenthood representatives said before their comments were edited.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to now say that Leslie Hanks is from Centennial, Colorado.