Southern Baptists were among an estimated 50,000-75,000 pro-life activists who protested at Planned Parenthood clinics across America Aug. 22, calling for the defunding of the nation’s largest abortion provider.
Protestors in more than 350 cities across 47 states, according to statistics reported by LifeNews.com, joined what The Washington Post called “the largest-ever rally against” Planned Parenthood. Organized by a coalition of at least 60 pro-life groups known as ProtestPP, the demonstrations came in the wake of eight undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) allegedly showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of baby parts obtained through abortion.
The latest video shows a woman identified as Melissa Farrell, director of research for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, speaking of “alter[ing] our process … to obtain intact fetal cadavers.” The video then cuts to Farrell stating, “It’s all just a matter of line items.”
Joe Horan, associate pastor of worship at Old River Baptist Church in Dayton, Texas, protested at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast with his wife Sara after learning about the gathering from an online article by pastor and author John Piper. Some 600-700 anti-abortion demonstrators gathered at the Houston protest, according to Horan’s estimate. He told Baptist Press (BP) the CMP videos “peeled back the curtain for us on how dark [the abortion industry] really was and how dark our culture was in America.”
For the Horans, the videos took abortion “from being a political issue to being a very moral issue again and something we couldn’t put off as ‘just a political thing,’” he said.
Photo by Scott Colter
Nearly 600 protesters gathered at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 22.
Upon arriving at the demonstration, “we really wished we would have brought our girls because it was such a family atmosphere,” said Horan, a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The crowd included many young families and was diverse both in terms of age and race, he said.
Students from at least four Southern Baptist Convention seminaries attended protests, according to reports received by BP.
Garland Honeycutt, director of missions for the Avery Baptist Association in western North Carolina, told BP he and some 235 other protesters in Asheville “peaceably assembled … to make a statement that western North Carolinians and Christians in western North Carolina are pro-life, and we are hoping this will put enough pressure on our representatives in Congress to actually defund Planned Parenthood.”
Media reports have indicated Planned Parenthood receives some $500 million annually from the federal government.
Honeycutt said he “did not expect to see” about 70 pro-choice protestors gathered in opposition to the demonstration. “It was just very shocking to see there was that number of folks who were supportive of the abortion industry through Planned Parenthood and willing to stand with them despite all of the videos that have been released by the Center for Medical Progress.”
Sharayah Colter, a staff member with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was among nearly 600 protestors at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Fort Worth.
“Further than I could see in every direction,” people were “holding signs that said things like ‘All lives matter’ and ‘A person’s a person no matter how small,’” Colter told BP in written comments. “Off and on while we stood there for two hours, groups joined in singing ‘Amazing Grace’ and other hymns and praying together in small groups for expectant parents, unborn babies and an outbreak of revival in our nation.”
Like Honeycutt, Coulter was struck by the response of some Planned Parenthood supporters.
“Afterward, as I was posting about the morning on Twitter, I noticed some pro-choice folks were posting into the #ProtestPP hashtag, so I decided to try to civilly engage them in conversation,” Colter said. “It became clearer to me then by the name-calling and mockery in their responses that truly what we need is revival in America. Hearts are icy, not just to the fate of unborn babies, whom these folks said they do not consider to have ‘personhood,’ but to God and everything He is. The folks I was speaking with declined to let me tell them about hope found in Jesus Christ and told me their lives are just fine without Him. The response breaks my heart as much as the Planned Parenthood videos have.”
Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president for Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told BP he protested at a Nashville Planned Parenthood clinic with three of his four children, ages 6, 5 and 3.
“Nashville is an abortion destination in the South because of Tennessee’s abortion laws,” Bethancourt said in written comments. “To see over 300 people – of all ages, races and denominations – joined together outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Nashville for a time of prayer and worship was a powerful and inspiring moment. I hope my boys, who came with me to the event, will look back when they are older and see that 2015 was a turning point for protecting the sanctity of life.”
Planned Parenthood vice president Eric Ferrero told The Washington Post the demonstrations were “meant to harass our patients, who rely on our nonprofit health centers for basic, preventive health care. The people behind these protests have a clear political agenda: They want to ban abortion, and block women and men from accessing basic reproductive health care.”
But Denny Burk, a Boyce College professor who joined some 500 people to protest at a Louisville, Ky., Planned Parenthood clinic, wrote on his blog that the demonstrators with him appeared decidedly gentle.
“It was interesting to watch pro-lifers protest,” Burk wrote. “Pro-lifers are not radical, protesting kinds of people. They are a little less ‘occupy Wall Street’ and a little more ‘I miss Mayberry.’ In other words, these pro-life protestors tended to be boring and normal – which means they don’t know what they are doing when it comes to protesting. Several times the emcee tried to organize a chant, but we never could get it together. It was kind of sad, but it was also kind of humorous. There’s something endearing about the fact that we drew so many inexperienced protesters. That fact alone is an important one.”
Burk expressed a motivation for protesting likely shared by the tens of thousands who joined him across America.
“I went to this protest because abortion-on-demand remains the greatest human rights crisis of our time,” Burk wrote. “Over 57 million human babies have been killed legally in our country under the regime of Roe v. Wade. Planned Parenthood is on the cutting edge of this slaughter. It must end.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)