Alongside nationwide pro-life protests of Planned Parenthood Saturday, around 80 Greater New Haven pro-choice advocates also rallied Saturday outside Planned Parenthood of Southern New England on Whitney Avenue in support of the organization.
Elm City-based members of Women Organized to Resist and Defend, a nationwide grassroots feminist organization, led the rally, which enjoyed support from Yale students, members of various faith communities and local progressive activists. While WORD has been leading rallies since late last year — when protests of Planned Parenthood increased following the August 2015 release of controversial videos alleging that company executives sold fetal parts for profit — Saturday’s rally nearly doubled the attendance of most previous rallies, thanks to heightened community outreach.
“As long as misinformation and bigotry are being spread and attacks continue, there needs to be people like us out there to stand up for Planned Parenthood workers and patients,” WORD organizer IV Staklo said.
Staklo said the organization has been reaching out to activists across the state to rouse support. Staklo said pro-choice advocates in Bridgeport, Milford and West Hartford have expressed interest in rallying at the Planned Parenthood locations in or near their towns.
New Haven-based WORD organizer Deb Malatesta said she and other supporters went out Saturday morning to defend all patients’ rights and access to health care. She added that members of the pro-life opposition became more aggressive and intimidating toward Planned Parenthood patrons after the November 2015 shooting at a Colorado facility, which left three dead. This heightened hostility necessitated greater action from the pro-choice movement, Malatesta said.
But Chris O’Brien, vice president of legislative affairs at pro-life outreach organization Connecticut Right to Life, said he has not heard of a single attack or act of aggression directed toward Planned Parenthood patients or volunteers. He called pro-choice activists’ claims of such acts a “scare tactic” and “rallying call” to defame pro-lifers. O’Brien and other members of his organization did not partake in protests Saturday because they conflicted with their annual Right To Life Conference in Waterbury.
Saturday’s demonstration drew support from activists who consistently attend WORD’s weekly rallies and newcomers. Kara Tschetter, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer and employee, said Saturday was her first time demonstrating in New Haven because she recently moved back to the Elm City from New Orleans. She said Planned Parenthood activism is more prominent in New Haven than in Louisiana.
Tschetter added that she wishes more people knew about Planned Parenthood, which she called a primary source of health care for men and women of all ages. Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health services, including contraception, STD screenings and abortions.
Steve Hall, a Hamden resident who has been attending WORD’s rallies since they began five months ago, said he is “disgusted” by Planned Parenthood protestors who belong to the middle or upper-middle class. He said he thinks these opponents do not understand or care that Planned Parenthood is one of the only resources available to many low-income residents.
“This is the only health care some people can afford,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, it’s about denying reproductive rights.”
Staklo said the presidential election season has played a role in galvanizing activism because it has brought many divisive topics — including reproductive and LGBT rights — to citizens’ attention. Many of Saturday’s supporters were Yale Divinity School students, and some pro-choice advocates from local high schools also took to the sidewalk.
Jennifer Mydosh, a senior at the Catholic high school Sacred Heart Academy, and Hamden High School senior Mack Paddock said they have attended the rallies for about two months.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England opened in 2009 after Planned Parenthood of Connecticut and Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island merged.