Several hundred Planned Parenthood supporters rallied outside the local clinic Saturday in response to calls from federal lawmakers to cut funding to the organization.
Rally attendees gathered at Mount Baker Planned Parenthood at the Bellingham Health Center, 1530 Ellis St., around 11 a.m. They then lined the sidewalks at the intersection of Ellis, North Forest and York streets, holding signs and cheering as passing drivers honked in support.
Karen Jans, 24, of Bellingham organized the event, and led announcements from a PA system on the southeast corner of the intersection. Aside from showing support with signs and cheers, attendees were encouraged to walk into the clinic and donate, and to call Washington state’s federal lawmakers to urge them to keep allocating federal funds to the organization.
“If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been out here and someone came up to me and said, ‘Planned Parenthood literally saved my life,’ I would be able to fund Planned Parenthood on my own,” Jans said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said he hopes to cut the organization’s funding, including more than $400 million in annual Medicaid reimbursements, as part of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The loss would take roughly half of Planned Parenthood’s revenue and fulfill a longtime conservative desire to bankrupt the organization that provides a host of reproductive health services, including abortions.
Nearly 6,000 people used the Bellingham clinic’s services in 2016, executive director Linda McCarthy said in an email. Services include cancer screening, contraception and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Saturday’s rally drew a crowd of both men and women, and attendees’ ages were wide-ranging.
Nicole Givens, 41, and her daughter, Madison Larsen, 18, both from Blaine, stood along Ellis with signs and wore pink sweaters that read “Keep your laws off my body.” Both said they were concerned that defunding Planned Parenthood may remove access to affordable health care for others.
“Personally speaking, this is a little bit of a scary time right now,” Larsen added.
From the corner of North Forest and Ellis, Zoe Fejeran, 22, Anna Finigan, 21, and Kylee Simpson, 21, all from Bellingham, held signs that read “My body, my choice,” “Human rights includes women, you know,” and “I’m getting covered.” Fejeran said she’s used the Bellingham clinic to get birth control and annual checkups.
“I just think they stand up for a lot of really good causes,” she said.
The crowd dwindled into the afternoon, and around 150 demonstrators remained at around 3 p.m.
McCarthy said clinic staff was “touched” by the support during the rally. Staff wouldn’t know how much was raised in donations until Monday, she said.
Anti-abortion activists emboldened by the new administration of President Donald Trump also staged rallies around the country Saturday calling for the federal government to cut off payments to Planned Parenthood. At the nonprofit’s New York headquarters, supporters outnumbered a group of 50 abortion-rights opponents by a ratio of 3-to-1, and thousands rallied separately at Washington Square Park to support Planned Parenthood. In the Seattle suburb of Kent, 300 supporters turned out, as opposed to a couple dozen opponents.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.