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Following Colorado shooting, St. Louis Planned Parenthood rallies support

Planned Parenthood supporters rally in 2015 outside the agency's clinic in St. Louis after a mass shooting at a clinic in Colorado Springs.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
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Planned Parenthood supporters rally outside the agency's midtown clinic on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015.

More than a hundred people gathered in a crowd of pink signs outside Missouri’s only active abortion clinic Saturday in midtown St. Louis. Abortion services in Columbia are in limbo.

Standing in a large circle inside a gated parking lot on the corner of Boyle Avenue and Forest Park Avenue, the group of 120 – 150 held a moment of silence to reflect on the Black Friday shooting that left three dead and nine injured at Colorado Springs’ Planned Parenthood clinic.

Planned Parenthood leaders, activists and patients then rallied the crowd in support of the agency and abortion rights.

“Our centers were open (the day after the shooting), our staff showed up, our staff served patients, and patients showed. Patients came in for the health care that they need. And we are committed to do this every single day,” Mary Kogut, CEO of Planned Parenthood St. Louis region and Southwest Missouri, told supporters. They responded with cheers.

For abortion-rights activist Ellen Dempsher, access to Planned Parenthood is personal.

“A couple of years ago I got pregnant unintentionally and had an abortion. And I’m here because I am really grateful that I was able to make that choice because it was right for me,” Dempsher said.

Dempsher now volunteers her Saturdays to greet Planned Parenthood patients and walk them from their cars to the clinic.  

“I came to Planned Parenthood (for the abortion) and right outside the premises were protesters that were shouting at me as I was on my way in,” Dempsher said. “That’s part of the reason I continue to serve as a patient greeter, as a patient escort. Because to me that was so appalling that I would show up to Planned Parenthood for an abortion—not for a counseling session, not to think harder as if I hadn’t thought hard enough already about this huge decision I was making.”

Cindy and Rudy Mendez of St. Charles County protest outside the Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. It's the only clinic in Missouri that currently offers abortions.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
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Cindy and Rudy Mendez of St. Charles County protest outside the Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. It's the only clinic in Missouri that currently offers abortions.

  Dempsher said she speaks out about her abortion because she wants to stand up against a culture of stigma and shame.

“Having unprotected sex — that was my bad choice. Having an abortion was the good choice. That was the responsible choice,” Dempsher said. “That was a choice that I do not regret and will not regret because it’s what was right for me.”

St. Louis’ abortion clinic regularly draws anti-abortion protesters, and this Saturday was no different.

Cindy and Rudy Mendez of St. Charles County picketed on the sidewalk carrying hand-painted signs. The couple said they’ve been protesting outside abortion clinics for 45 years.

Cindy Mendez called the Colorado Springs shooting “terrible” and said it was caused by a lack of respect for life.

“Any kind of shooting or killing is no respect for life. If you can kill your child legally, you can kill anybody,” she added.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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