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Abortion-Rights Opponents And Advocates Commingle At Overland Park Planned Parenthood

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
On Saturday, in Overland Park, Kansas, protesters at Planned Parenthood were met by counter-protesters, holding pink signs in support of the non-profit healthcare provider.

Dozens of protesters gathered Saturday in Overland Park, Kansas, outside of the Planned Parenthood Great Plains; some to protest the nonprofit reproductive healthcare group, others to defend it.

"Repent of supporting murder," called John Pennington through a megaphone, with his pregnant wife and two children by his side. Meanwhile, a small crowd of women chanted, "My body, my choice."

The Overland Park rally was one of nearly 150 scheduled for Planned Parenthood locations across the country — organized by the Pro-Life Action League and a movement called #ProtestPP, which calls for the group's federal funding to be revoked.

Kansas state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, who is also running to replace Lynn Jenkins in Congress, made an appearance. Fitzgerald, a Republican, who has vehemently compared Planned Parenthood to Nazi concentration camps, likened abortion to slavery as he spoke to the crowd.

"Slavery ... was the failure of some to recognize the humanity and dignity of others, that caused the problem," he said. "It was the recognition of dignity of others that solved it. It is that solution we seek today."

Counter-protesters stood across the street near the Planned Parenthood clinic, which was intentional, said Planned Parenthood representative Rachel Sweet.

"This is about showing our patients support," Sweet said.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Visiting Angels certified nursing assistant Meghan Barlow, left, led anti-abortion activists in prayer Saturday at a rally protesting Planned Parenthood.

Escorts were on hand Saturday to help patients get into the clinic without any run-ins with anti-abortion rights protesters, who often stand with signs at the edge of the parking lot, Sweet said. She emphasized the organization provides services other than abortions, such as STD testing, contraception, and cancer screenings.

But, anti-abortion rights protesters argued that they don't believe Planned Parenthood is a healthcare provider. Many called on their religion as the reason for their position.

Austin Lind, 31, said he's always been pretty conservative, but he did not always oppose abortion rights.

"I was first okay [thinking] it's pretty reasonable if somebody got raped, why would they have to look at their rapist their whole life?" Lind said.

But, he said he changed his mind when he hit rock bottom in 2014 and was "saved." Now, he said, in the case of rape, he sees abortion as "another heinous thing to cover up a heinous thing."

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect title for Steve Fitzgerald.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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