More than a hundred protesters, some traveling from Lafayette and Covington, lined Government Street in Baton Rouge on Saturday, braving the weather with picket signs, banners and prayer books to speak out against Planned Parenthood.
The protesters, who mostly stayed quiet, praying or singing hymns rather than marching and chanting, gathered outside the local Planned Parenthood health center as part of a national day of protest against the organization for its role in providing abortions and allegedly selling fetal tissues for profit.
The protest came amid a wave of criticism of Planned Parenthood after a series of videos released online by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress purported to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing prices for the sale of fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood officials have said the videos have been distorted through editing.
While profiting from the sale of fetal tissues violates federal health law, Planned Parenthood has stated that all tissue donations are performed “with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.”
Neither of Louisiana’s Planned Parenthood existing health clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans provide abortions, but protesters filled the sidewalk with chalk-drawn messages decrying the practice and accusing the local clinic of profiting from it.
“This is about the whole Planned Parenthood agenda,” said Russell Marino, who independently organized Saturday’s gathering. He said Louisiana’s clinics are complicit in the actions of clinics in other states even though the ones in Louisiana don’t provide abortions.
“Planned Parenthood is a national organization funded with public dollars and carries out the lion’s share of abortions nationally,” Marino said.
Louisiana Planned Parenthood director Melissa Flournoy emphasized in a statement the organization’s role in providing community health care services such as cancer screenings, birth control and diabetes checks. She said the protests could only make health care in the state worse.
“These groups don’t do a thing to help people detect cancer or avoid unintended pregnancy,” Flournoy said. “Too many women, men and families in Louisiana are going without health care, and it’s taking a toll on our community.”
Rachel Anderson, president of the LSU student organization Students for Life, said anti-abortion groups are pushing for more reproductive and family care in their communities. She said her group has led advocacy for pregnant students on LSU’s campus and organized a baby clothes exchange for impoverished parents.
Some protesters said they were concerned that Planned Parenthood’s proposed new clinic in New Orleans will bring more abortions to Louisiana. Planned Parenthood has said abortions will be provided at the clinic, which is slated to open on Claiborne Avenue.
George Dodd of Lafayette, standing on the corner of Government Street with his wife, Rosalyn, said he has long opposed the practice of abortion, but the new videos convinced him to act against Planned Parenthood.
“I was just shocked by this,” Dodd said. “Where does it end?”
The new clinic’s opening on Claiborne could be put in jeopardy, however, after Gov. Bobby Jindal announced earlier this month the state would cancel its Medicare provider contract with Planned Parenthood. Jindal’s decision was the subject of a separate protest Friday, when pro-abortion rights activists gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion. Jindal gained national attention when he set up a movie screen and played the Center for Medical Progress’ videos during the protest.
Tricia Parsons, of Baton Rouge, applauded the governor’s move to defund Planned Parenthood.
“We don’t need to be funding this illegal, immoral activity,” Parsons said.