Protesters make their voices heard on topic of abortion

5:43 PM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Hundreds of people on both sides of the issue of abortion gathered outside of Planned Parenthood's health center on Congress Street to have their voices heard.

"We come here because we believe that life is sacred in the womb, that life begins at conception, and that babies should have the right to live and that the Constitution should protect them having a right to life," explained Jeremy Hiltz.

Every Friday since mid-summer, anti-abortion protesters have gathered of the health center, with some holding graphic signs, preaching and singing as people pass-by or enter the building for appointments.

"About mid-summer they started coming once a week, and they started getting really aggressive with our patients, or people who they thought were our patients," said Megan Hannan, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

"We have seen some times where the people with the big signs that you saw will go after people, and people have been very afraid by that and they have been feeling very much like were harassed and were threatened," she added. 


Nearby business owner, Mike Fink, says the protesters have gone too far in recent weeks, screaming at anybody who is walking by and intimidating them, so he organized a counter protest to their protest.

"They are inciting violence," stated Fink.  "They try to incite me and they try to incite other people to react to them and it has caused violence elsewhere."

Anti-abortion protesters say they are trying to prevent women from making a terrible choice, and obey the laws as they do so.

Anti-abortion protesters say they are trying to prevent women from making a terrible choice, and obey the laws as they do so.

"We do this because we want to save babies," said Pat Nye.  "We come here, we try to speak to the young women. We've never screamed at them, we've never pushed at them, we've never spit at them.  All of those things have been done to us."

Portland police officers maintained a very visible presence throughout the morning, making sure the emotional debate didn't boil over into physical confrontations. 

Both sides agree that violence should not enter into what should be a civil debate, but worry that someone could get hurt or worse if nothing is done to calm some of the tensions between protesters, bystanders and patients.

"We can't control what anybody else could do, but we are prepared to not resist and to have a good non-violent example in everything we do down here," said Hiltz.

Planned Parenthood has gone as far as offer escorts for patients to help shield them from protesters and has hired an off-duty police officer to stand guard at the health center's entrance.

"Women have the right to make decisions about their own pregnancies," stated Hannan.  "Whether a woman decides to terminate her pregnancy or to carry through with her pregnancy or to give the baby up for adoption or to keep the baby, that is up to her."

"We are all more than willing to respect their values and their rights, but they need to be able to respect ours as well," she added.

Planned Parenthood, residents and area business owners say they have had talks with the city about creating a policy that does not allow protesters to stand within thirty-five feet of the health center to protect people entering the facility and keep the sidewalk clear for pedestrians.


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