Following allegations that Planned Parenthood has sold fetal body parts for profit, more than 150 people gathered outside the organization’s Sarasota Health Center on Saturday to protest the nonprofit’s federal funding.
Carrying navy blue signs bearing slogans including “Pray To End Abortion” and “No Tax $$ To Planned Parenthood,” the protesters crowded the sidewalk in front of the health facility and spilled out onto Central Avenue.
“All life matters!” proclaimed a man carrying a giant cardboard sign up and down the sidewalk. “All life is sacred!”
Standing between the protesters and the health center was a barricade of about 80 Planned Parenthood supporters clad in hot pink shirts and holding matching signs. Meanwhile, across Florida and the U.S. similar scenes were playing out.
A National Day of Protest was held outside more than 300 Planned Parenthood facilities on Saturday. A coalition of pro-life groups called ProtestPP organized the nationwide effort to raise support to defund the nonprofit organization.
The future of Planned Parenthood came into turmoil this July after an anti-abortion activist group released an undercover video showing a senior Planned Parenthood official discussing the disposition of parts from aborted fetuses, the Associated Press reported. More covert videos have since been released.
The activist group, the California-based Center for Medical Progress, alleged the videos reveal illegalities, but Planned Parenthood said the activity in question was the legal, not-for-profit donation of fetal tissue to research firms.
Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, released a statement Saturday that said the Center for Medical Progress aimed to deceive the public.
“These political attacks claiming that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation are simply not true,” she wrote. “While we do not have donations programs in Florida, some Planned Parenthood organizations in other states do, and they follow all laws and ethical guidelines.”
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, decried the allegations against her organization last month in a column for the Washington Post. She also stated that almost no federal funding has paid for abortion services since Congress passed the Hyde amendment in 1976.
“The federal funding Planned Parenthood health centers receive goes toward preventive medicine — breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment, well-woman exams — that millions of low- and middle-income women across the country rely on,” she wrote. “Those are the services that would be lost.”
Sarasota protester Angela Simpson argued Planned Parenthood’s federal funding should instead go to health clinics that can meet women’s needs but do not provide abortion services.
“All of them provide full, quality care to women,” said Simpson, executive director of the pro-life nonprofit Gulf Coast Storks. “But they’re not under investigation for selling baby parts or harvesting them, nor do they do abortions. So they don’t give me the ethical challenges that Planned Parenthood has.”
Republican Party of Sarasota state committeeman Christian Ziegler also attended the protest. He said as long as the organization provides abortion services, it should not benefit from tax dollars.
“Money is still going to an organization that performs 327,000 abortions annually,” he said, referencing medical services data from Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report. “They’re killing the equivalent of the City of (Tampa) every year.”
That report also noted that abortion services comprised about 3 percent of all medical services Planned Parenthood provided that year. The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates has stated that more than 90 percent of the care Planned Parenthood provides is preventive.
Administrators with Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, which covers Sarasota County, declined an interview about Saturday’s protest. Supporters of the organization who stood outside the local health clinic on Saturday also declined to be interviewed.
Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida covers 22 counties, operates 12 health centers and serves 39,000 patients, according to its website.
Last month, Gov. Rick Scott ordered state health officials to inspect Planned Parenthood offices that perform abortions.
Florida health officials accused three Planned Parenthood facilities of performing second-trimester abortions without a proper license. Planned Parenthood has disputed that finding and said last week that the clinic will resume performing first-trimester abortions.
The state’s investigation is ongoing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.