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Health, Science, Environment

Defund Planned Parenthood rally draws thousands of counter-protesters in St. Louis

Abortion opponents stand on a street median as Planned Parenthood supporters march past the organization's Central West End clinic February 11, 2017.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Anti-abortion actvists stand on a street median as Planned Parenthood supporters march past the organization's Central West End clinic Saturday.

Rallies for and against Planned Parenthood took place Saturday in St. Louis and across the country.

Anti-abortion groups coordinated events in cities nationwide to show their support for an effort in Congress that would block the organization from receiving any federal funding.

Abortion rights activists responded by arranging counter-protests.

About 200 people participated in the local anti-abortion protest outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End, including Marisol Pfaff.

Pfaff said she regrets going to the organization for two abortions in the 1970s.

“After that I really suffered a lot,” Pfaff said. “I was a young girl who really needed counseling more than anything, and I did not receive it at all, not at the first one or the second one.”

The Central West End location is the only clinic left in Missouri that provides surgical abortions. State law now requires a three-day waiting period after receiving counseling before a woman can get an abortion.

Defend Life founder Mary Maschmeier claps hands with a rally-goer outside Planned Parenthood in the Central West End on Feb. 11, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

“I oppose abortion,” said rally organizer Mary Maschmeier, the founder of Defend Life. “Why should I pay for something that I oppose?”

Asked about the taxpayers who support Planned Parenthood, Maschmeier said “They’re wrong.”

After about an hour, a much larger group marched silently across the street to show support for the health care provider. It took the pro-Planned Parenthood crowd half an hour to file past, and organizers estimated the crowd to be about 4,000 people.

Supporter Brittany Thompson pointed out that tax dollars don’t pay for abortions except for in cases of incest, rape or when the woman’s life is in danger.

“It’s not like any woman could just go in and get an abortion for free on the government,” Thompson said.

Instead, Planned Parenthood gets Medicaid reimbursements for Pap smears, STD tests and cancer screenings.

Planned Parenthood supporters marched silently past the organization's Central West End clinic as anti-abortion activists prayed during a 2017 demonstration.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Thompson said she’s worried by the push to bar the organization from federal funding because she’s low income and cervical cancer and breast cancer run in her family. She relies on Planned Parenthood for free screenings.

“Taking away the federal money that I’ve used, and many, many women have used to have healthy lives, that’s scary,” Thompson said.

“Planned Parenthood gave me my first pap smear after I was raped in 1985,” said Sharon Caldwell, who marched with Thompson. “I will be there for them, because they were there for me when nobody else was. They were the only people who cared.”

Caldwell said didn’t have insurance at the time and Planned Parenthood gave her health care free of charge.

Last year the Missouri legislature voted to restrict most Medicaid funds from abortion providers in the state.

Durrie Bouscaren contributed to this report.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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