For four hours a day, a small group of mostly Catholic Christians have been praying outside the Marquette branch of Planned Parenthood on Third Street, holding rosaries, anti-abortion signs and pictures of the Virgin Mary. The members of St. Peter’s Cathedral congregation on Baraga Street disagrees with the center’s views on abortion and contraceptives as part of sexual health, as well as many others, as they participate in a nationwide movement called 40 Days of Life. The demonstration started on March 9, Ash Wednesday, and will continue through the Christian Lenten season until Easter on April 24.
“We didn’t have time to organize anything officially here, but we decided to give it a go locally to get people praying to end abortion,” said The Rev. Father John Boyle, Associate Father of St. Peter’s Cathedral.
However, people have come to the defense of the health center with signs of their own, offering the positive side of Planned Parenthood.
“Planned Parenthood is the most important service of its kind in the area,” said freshman social work major Carrie Grishaber, one of the demonstrators supporting the center. “They provide positive services that benefit everybody.”
Northern students have been on both sides of the demonstrations.
“Most of the people standing with me have been friends from Spooner Hall, but people hear or see and they will stand with us for 10 minutes at a time,” Grishaber said. “A couple girls from West Hall ran home and made a sign that said ‘Honk if you like Planned Parenthood.’ It’s great to see people get the word out.”
Grishaber is leading the informal support group of the health center, with groups meeting up on Wednesday and Saturday to work around class schedules.
“I saw that they were protesting, and I thought, they can’t be there without the other side represented,” Grishaber said.
Students who attend St. Peter’s and members of NMU’s Students for Life have joined Boyle at different times throughout the prayer vigil, adding youth to the demonstration.
“In many ways, the younger generation, you could describe them as the survivors of the abortion era, with over 50 million legal abortions between 1970 and 2008,” Boyle said, referring to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, a source used by both pro-choice and pro-life organizations. “I expect they’re grateful that they’re alive.”
The Marquette branch of Planned Parenthood does not perform abortions, but offers referrals to be used at the patient’s discretion. However, Boyle believes that the emergency contraceptive Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, is a form of chemical abortion, despite reports from the FDA.
“The morning after pill is designed to induce abortions, so (Planned Parenthood does) advocate abortion here,” Boyle said.
Despite the presence outside on the sidewalk, it is business as usual inside the health center. With the health center entrance in the back of the building, clients can avoid the controversy by entering through the parking lot of Water’s Edge non-denominational church on Presque Isle Avenue, which connects to the center’s parking lot. According to Director of Communications for Western and Northern Michigan Julie McKeiver of Planned Parenthood, the clinic focuses on the patients looking for help with STI and HIV testing, as well as annual exams.
“The annual exams include breast and cervical exams and in 15 percent of those exams come back abnormal, which means cancer or other problems,” she said. “Without these tests, those problems would be missed. Our care is focused on many clients and it can be disturbing that they have to be bothered that they get their health care.”
McKeiver added that she could not do anything to remove the people outside the center, as the demonstrators have stayed on the sidewalk and not trespassed. Without the signs, passersby have a tough time noticing the small group, as their prayers are barely audible over the traffic.
“Were not protesting here, we’re praying to offer support to any women who feel pressured to go through the termination. The other side will say ‘We’re for the women,’ but so are we. We can’t be for the child without being for the mother,” Boyle said.
For those wishing to join either one of the demonstrations, contact Boyle at St. Peter’s Cathedral at 226-6548 or Grishaber at [email protected]