Matthew Leifheit

Responding to recent attacks and denunciation campaigns across the nation, nearly 50 pro-choice advocates rallied in support of Planned Parenthood on Saturday morning in an event that demonstrated broadening support from the New Haven community.

Greater New Haven pro-choice activists assembled on Whitney Avenue outside of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, a center that provides reproductive health services, including contraception, STD screenings and abortions. Elm City-based members of Women Organized to Resist and Defend — a nationwide grassroots feminist organization — led the rally, which garnered support from members of various faith communities and local progressive activists.

“This issue is not just about abortion,” WORD organizer IV Staklo said. “This is an issue of defending a resource that provides a lot of different services to a lot of different communities.”

Staklo also highlighted the important role Planned Parenthood plays for LGBTQ communities, particularly for transgender individuals seeking affordable access to hormone therapy. Staklo added that Planned Parenthood provides prenatal care for low-income community members nationwide.

Saturday’s demonstration marked the first widely publicized pro-choice rally in the city. Previously, supporters came primarily from the WORD activist network, Staklo said, adding that this rally drew from a larger crowd of pro-choice New Haven residents. WORD organizers and supporters began attending weekly protests in November when pro-life activists escalated efforts to denounce and defund Planned Parenthood, Staklo said. These efforts followed the August release of controversial videos alleging that Planned Parenthood executives sold fetal parts for profit.

Staklo said weekly support at the pro-choice rallies increased significantly after the Nov. 27 shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood facility. Because members of churches and other faith organizations in New Haven felt misrepresented by vocal pro-life activists, they joined rallies in support of Planned Parenthood, Staklo added.

Hamden resident Steve Hall said he and other supporters began the weekly rallies as way to counter the pro-life activists who rally against Planned Parenthood  each week. Hall said he brings his daughter Kate Hall, a middle-school student, because he feels it is important to educate her on issues of social justice.

“People going to that clinic for treatment should be able to do so without being harassed,” Hall said. “You don’t harass people trying to get health care.”

Hall said he perceives rallying against the pro-life activists as standing up against “bullies.” He added that he has seen some pro-life activists outside of Planned Parenthood use intimidation tactics — such as taking photos of employees and patients entering the building — and vulgar language.

But Mike Ferraro, a pro-life activist and board member at Saint Gianna Center — a New Haven nonprofit that aims to present women with alternative options to abortion — said members of his organization carry out peaceful work and are considerate of passersby while demonstrating on sidewalks.

Jim Loomer, a Christian pastor from Milford, said he remains in his designated sidewalk area when he attends triweekly pro-life demonstrations. He said activists on the other side of the argument are often dismissive of his right to express his views.

“That’s not pro-choice, that’s squelching free speech,” Loomer said.

Deb Malatesta, a New Haven-based WORD organizer, said she began leading pro-choice demonstrations in 1991. She said since the Colorado shooting, the number of individuals harassing Planned Parenthood patients with “misogynistic” rhetoric has increased.

Malatesta emphasized the importance of standing in support of Planned Parenthood patients and workers suffering from harassment. She noted that numerous employees often support the rally to express their gratitude.

“People have a right to an abortion if they want an abortion,” Malatesta said.

Planned Parenthood was founded in 1916 in New York City.

Correction, Feb. 8: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Planned Parenthood provides both prenatal screenings and care for low-income patients. In fact, the organization only provides prenatal care. A previous version also misspelled IV Staklo’s name as IV Slatko and misquoted her as saying, “This issue is not about abortion.” In fact, she said, “This issue is not just about abortion.”