Supporters of Planned Parenthood took over Pacific Avenue on Feb. 11 in a demonstration that drew hundreds in to a crowd that stretched three blocks long and several people deep.
The rally in downtown Santa Cruz continued to grow. Many held pink signs reading “Stand with Planned Parenthood” in support of the agency, which is in danger of losing federal funding. About 400 people turned out by 11 a.m., with drivers honking their horns in solidarity.
Community members rallied in response to a nationwide day of protests by anti-abortion advocates. Thousands gathered across the country to protest against Planned Parenthood while others displayed support for the agency.
Chris Bowman, one of the organizers of the demonstration said she became motivated when she heard about the protests advocating all federal funding cuts for Planned Parenthood.
“There are protests going on all over the country, and many of us love Planned Parenthood because they offer services for all kinds of things on a sliding scale,” she said. “They have been the savior for many, many people who do not have health care.”
Among those helped by Planned Parenthood was John Simmons, who carried a sign that said “Support Trans Rights.” Simmons said he’s angry about the prospect of funding cuts.
“I get my health care at Planned Parenthood, and [members of the current administration] are going to take it away,” he said, choking up. “They’re going to take away my MediCal, and this is how I stay alive, so naturally, I’m upset.”
Simmons is also worried his son won’t receive health care because of the cuts. He said he attended the rally “to contribute to a growing momentum.”
“There has to be a way to stop the authoritarianism that’s taking over what used to be a great country, and it has to be things like this,” he said. “That, or destruction of property — if that’s what it’s gonna take, fine, but I don’t want to do that.”
Erin O’Connor-Thygeson brought her four-year-old daughter Sadie to the rally. O’Connor-Thygeson said she was in Washington D.C. for the Women’s March, and Saturday’s protest was her first opportunity to bring her daughter to an event.
“I think it’s great to be in such a supportive community,” she said. “Santa Cruz gets it, but sometimes it’s nice to have a show of support.”
A block away, on Cedar Street, 11 people who want to defund the agency protested silently. One man carried a sign claiming Planned Parenthood sells fetal body parts, although that has been proven false.
Karol, one of the 11 who came to oppose Planned Parenthood, declined to give her last name because, she said, she had received calls at 3 a.m. from those in favor of women’s reproductive rights.
“We feel that human life is valuable at all stages because we are created in the image of God,” Karol said.
Being anti-abortion in Santa Cruz is clearly unpopular. Some drivers passing the anti-abortion group shouted derogatory comments at them. Someone threw a water balloon.
Karol said they will continue their protests, as the group has done for years.
“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right,” she said.
The two groups, for the most part, kept a block between them, and the protest by Planned Parenthood supporters was peaceful and positive — something O’Connor-Thygeson said she’s been trying to teach her daughter.
“We’ve had a lot of talks about just generally being nice and caring for people, and how we react when people say things we don’t agree with,” she said.