By Jeanie Lindsay
Gunfire, arson and verbal harassment are just a few of the attacks Planned Parenthoods across the nation have experienced over the past five months, but pro-choice advocates and supporters continue to rally their communities and celebrate.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands hosted its annual anniversary event Friday night to commemorate the famous Roe v. Wade decision and a woman’s right to choose. The celebration comes just months after videos showing Planned Parenthood officials allegedly selling fetal tissue illegally went viral last summer. Although the Center for Medical Progress posted the first video in July and since then have been proved to be deceptively edited, the videos’ impact combined with anticipation over the next presidential election has continued to reverberate through the organization.
Due to that backlash, this year’s event, “It’s OUR Right: 43 Years of Legal Abortion” had even more value than usual, according to organizers and participants.
Katie Rogers, public relations manager for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands (PPGNHI), explained that this year’s lineup of speakers represented a new focus to bring people together for storytelling events where individuals are able to speak out.
“This year, the stakes for women’s access to safe, legal abortion are higher than ever,” Rogers wrote in an email. “We need to make our voices heard and ensure that our rights are protected.”
Lindy West, co-founder of #ShoutYourAbortion and Seattle-based author, hosted Friday’s event, peppering the evening with bits of humor and Planned Parenthood statistics. Storytellers also showed a variety of emotions while telling their abortion stories. Holding back tears, with a laugh, or even through a poetry performance, the women expressed their fears and relief, or their terrible hardships, through the process of obtaining an abortion.
West also introduced the second co-founder of the viral social media movement, Amelia Bonow, whose speech acted as a call to action for supporters.
“The pro-choice movement is ready to stand up,” Bonow said. “It is devastatingly clear that legality is not enough.”
Planned Parenthoods in Washington have not been untouched by the recent events. Nearly a month prior to Planned Parenthood’s CEO Cecile Richard’s testimony defending the organization before a Congressional committee, one of Planned Parenthood’s locations in Pullman caught fire, which investigators later found to be arson. On the pro-life coalition #ProtestPP’s national days of protest – Aug. 22 and Oct. 10 – Seattle locations were flocked with passionate picketers.
Picketers, however, may be one of the reasons that some local Planned Parenthood employees have seen an uptick in volunteers. Halei Watkins, a volunteer and outreach manager with the nonprofit for a little over two years, said she’s seen an outpouring of community support.
“I’m getting more volunteers contacting and reaching out more proactively to the organization than I ever have before,” Watkins said. “I think this level of attack has really increased the sense of urgency people feel to get involved.”
The deadly attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood in November moved both sides of the abortion debate to condemn the shooter’s violence, but protesters continued to be a regular presence at the Madison Street Planned Parenthood in Seattle for many weekends afterward. Although no violence broke out at those protests, Rogers said measures were taken to increase safety.
Marie Logsden, an executive team member for the Rocky Mountain’s Planned Parenthood, spoke on Friday of widespread resilience and determination among colleagues and supporters that she has seen since the Colorado attacks, and how she refuses to let violence scare her into inaction.
“We are healing, and we are hurting,” Logsden said tearfully, “but we will continue our gentle, compassionate and noble mission.”
Now, as the country turns its eye to the 2016 election season, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton has been a focus of conversation. Clinton’s past attention on women’s issues and refrain that abortion is an essential part of women’s health care are reasons cited by both Richards and supporters for the early endorsement.
U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, a pro-choice politician, recently announced his retirement. Planned Parenthood supporters like Elizabeth Anderson just want to make sure another Democrat is in the seat.
“I always vote, and I almost exclusively vote democratic,” Anderson said. “Around here, I don’t think there are any Democrats that are pro-life.”
So far, a number of local Democrats have expressed interest in the race, including Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, and Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Joe McDermott, who announced earlier this week that he will be running for the open seat.
A defiant message to the pro-choice opposition rang out in the conclusion of Logden’s speech:
“We deplore your violence, we reject your threats and we aren’t going anywhere.”