Protesters Rally to Defund -- and Defend -- Planned Parenthood

Feb 13, 2017

This weekend, anti-abortion advocates protested at Planned Parenthood clinics around the country. And pro-choice advocates rallied in response — in Staunton and Charlottesville. WMRA’s Emily Richardson-Lorente spoke with a few advocates on both sides of the issue at the Charlottesville rallies.

It’s 9:30 on Saturday morning and there are no patients in sight outside Charlottesville’s Planned Parenthood clinic. But there is a long row of about 70 people lined up single file on the sidewalk. Many of them are holding signs. “Defund Planned Parenthood,” “Stop Abortion Now,” and this sign …

PEARL CUPO: (reading her sign) “If abortion is not the business of the government, why are taxpayers funding it?”

That’s Pearl Cupo. She’s here with her Mom, and 4 sisters. The youngest, Kerith, just turned 11 today.

KERITH CUPO: I’m here to try and defund Planned Parenthood.

EMILY: And why do you care about that? Why is it important to you?

KERITH CUPO: Because God says that we shouldn’t kill innocent lives and I think that abortion is doing that.

KIM CUPO: People talk about reproductive rights, well, after you’ve reproduced, I don’t think it’s your right to kill a child.

That’s the girls’ mom Kim Cupo. She and her family have actually been protesting here regularly for three years. But today ….

KIM CUPO: We want to remind Congress of their commitment to defund Planned Parenthood.

EMILY: What does that mean to you?

KIM CUPO: That we oppose federal funding for abortion.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t actually receive taxpayer money for performing abortions — the Hyde Amendment ensures that — but it does get reimbursed for other family planning services that it provides to patients on government health programs like Medicaid. But to these protestors, what matters is this:

ROBERT SMITH: Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider, and despite the Hyde Amendment, we all know that money is fungible.

That’s UVa law student Robert Smith. He’s the president of an anti-abortion group called “Advocates for Life” at the law school.

ROBERT SMITH: We want to basically channel funding into centers that really do support prenatal care and women’s health.

There are lots of folks who disagree with Robert’s stance. But they’re not here at the clinic. They’re a mile down the road, staging a counter-protest in front of U.S. Congressman Tom Garrett’s office.

[shouting, honking]

This is a much bigger group, and a much noisier one. 

TANNIS FULLER: We’re not in front of Planned Parenthood because we’re not trying to draw attention to the defunding people that are down there. We’re trying to really put pressure on Garrett to understand that his constituency is concerned about preserving access to reproductive healthcare, to family planning, to birth control, to abortion.

That’s Tannis Fuller, one of the activists who helped organize this raucous counter-protest.

EMILY: What do you think would happen if the protestors up the road were successful?

TANNIS FULLER: We know what will happen. We’ve seen it happen in Indiana and we’ve seen it happen in Texas. We know that when we take funding away from family planning, rates of unintended pregnancy go up, which means rates of abortion go up. We know that rates of STI go up. Garrett’s the one who makes that decision, not the folks in front of Planned Parenthood, so we’re out here to remind him that he has a big responsibility to his constituency.

A constituency that includes 18-year old Lexi. She’s been using her Medicaid insurance at the Planned Parenthood up the street for 2 years now for a variety of services.

LEXI: They’ve given me a breast exam, I got like a pap and they’ve tested me for STDs, and they’ve done multiple things and that’s all that I could have asked for — for free too, which is even more of a help.


SARAH REEDY: Nobody here likes abortion. But we have to be realistic about what minimizes the number of abortions that occur.

That’s Sarah Ready, with 2-year old Cordelia on her shoulders. Sarah says she’s here to support Planned Parenthood, in part, because she relied on it for contraception when she was younger and uninsured.

SARAH REEDY: Science shows that having access to education, having access to birth control, that is what brings down the number of abortions. Trying to pull funding from Planned Parenthood — you’re pulling the carpet out from under a lot of people who really need healthcare, and that’s not really a pro-life stance.

That term “pro-life” has repeatedly popped up at both protests today. Including with 54-year old Abby Guskind.

ABBY GUSKIND: Everybody is “pro-life,” but to force pro-birth on others, that’s not what the constitution is made of. 

Abby is a regular at these pro-choice protests. In fact, she was one of the protestors who was arrested back in 2012 when the Virginia legislature was considering a bill to make trans-vaginal ultrasounds mandatory before abortion. But the need to protest is beginning to wear on her.

ABBY GUSKIND: It gets very emotional and very personal as a woman to still be out on the streets and screaming and yelling just for your rights.

At its peak, the counter protest here swelled to about 500 people — nearly seven times the size of the protest up the street. Of course, protestors don’t vote on laws, politicians do. And it remains to be seen whether Congressman Tom Garett will be swayed at all by this raucous weekend rally occurring in front of his Charlottesville office — an office which, by the way, is closed on Saturdays.