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When members of the Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley received word of an anti-abortion demonstration at the Poughkeepsie branch clinic, they responded with a counter-demonstration about 20 times larger. St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church had published an announcement in its bulletin inviting parishioners to march the .2 miles to the Poughkeepsie Planned Parenthood in the middle of Friday morning Mass. However, the St. Mary’s protesters went unnoticed by members of the counter-demonstration–somehow lost in the crowd of Planned Parenthood supporters.

This event coincided with several other anti-abortion demonstrations across the country, recognizing the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling on January 22nd. “The purpose is to pray for the end of abortion and the healing of all people involved including the mothers of the children,” explained Father Ronald Perez, an administrator for St. Mary’s.

Planned Parenthood is used to this sort of challenge. Every Wednesday, on their surgery day, the Poughkeepsie clinic deals with small groups of protestors outside of their entrance. “We have a very strict non-confrontational policy,” said Judy DiMatteo, the program and data manager for Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley. “We don’t engage with people who are anti-Planned Parenthood but we want them to know that we are here.”

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On Friday morning, organizers from Planned Parenthood had never seen, and never expected, such a huge turnout for their counter-protest. In lieu of any anti-abortion demonstration, an estimated 250 activists lined both sides of Noxon Street, holding Planned Parenthood signs and banners. Many sported pink “pussy” hats from women’s marches last weekend, and a newfound voice for reproductive rights.

Ashley Casale, Public Affairs Coordinator for Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley, suggests that while anti-choice protestors may be emboldened by the anti-choice platform of the Trump administration, in retaliation, so are many pro-choice activists.

“All the people that [we] saw out on the street today are all the people that have always cared about Planned Parenthood and that have always supported but maybe they wouldn’t think to come out in an activist way,” said Casale.

Five students from the Marist Democrats club turned out to represent the college, while a few dozen Vassar students made up the rest of the college crowd. Some of the Vassar students led call and response chants and many held handmade cardboard signs.

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“Any chance I can get to take direct action in my community is the best way to stand up for our rights and women’s health and women’s choices,” said Isabel Schneck, a sophomore at Vassar. “So if there’s something that’s going on right by campus, for whatever cause that it is, I would stand up for that.”

The Planned Parenthood supporters never actually came face to face with the members of the St. Mary’s parish. An hour came and went without any recognition of the opposition out on the street, so members of the counter-demonstration began marching around the block in support of their cause.

“My sense is that they probably came, saw the huge contingency of support for Planned Parenthood out here and decided that it would be useless for them to stop and be here,” speculated Frances Fox-Pizzonia, Vice President of Education and Public Affairs.

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According to Father Ronald Perez, a dozen parish members had departed for Planned Parenthood at 8:30 and returned around 9, though apparently unnoticed by the counter-protesters. “Some people stayed and the rest of them went for a march to Noxon street, praying of course, and then they came back to the church,” he said. He added that he had not actually spoken to any of the protesters when they returned “because we were praying.”
Whether or not the protesters had made it to Noxon Street, the activists and patients remained unaffected by their march. “It’s our spot and our patients should feel safe and comfortable coming here,” Casale said. “The fact that we took the sidewalk supporting Planned Parenthood and took [the protester’s] spot is awesome–it is what we wanted.” Planned Parenthood was ultimately able to uphold scheduled appointments and provide undisturbed healthcare to patients.

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