Pro Life Ministries, an anti-abortion rights network, has brought busloads of protesters to the Planned Parenthood clinic on Vandalia once every year on Good Friday for the past 33 years. Planned Parenthood hosts a counter "Solidarity Day" at the same time.
"It used to be, years ago, that they would come and protest on Good Friday and we would close the clinics and hold the blinds and just hunker down and endure the day," says Planned Parenthood CEO Sarah Stoesz. "About 15 years ago we decided to turn it into a celebration of our own. So this is an opportunity for the whole community to come out and stand for something good and positive in the world, which is healthcare for all women."
Pro Life Ministries had about 2,000 silently praying marchers. On the Planned Parenthood side, there were 700 supporters, food trucks, and music. The opposing rallies, which take place in a wide alley next to the clinic, are separated by a fence and a number of cops. Apart from the jeering of some kids and muttered prayers on the Pro Life side, there was little interaction between the two.
All the way on the other side of the Planned Parenthood supporters, behind a stand of food trucks, stood churchgoers unaffiliated with Pro Life Ministries. While some shouted condemnations for hours on end, others stood silently near the food trucks with giant signs showing Photoshopped images of aborted fetuses, greeting passersby with flyers telling them to convert.
Jason Cooley of Old Paths Baptist Church in Northfield, Minnesota, has protested Planned Parenthood for the past three years. "I come to preach the Gospel, to bring all men to Christ, and to show the atrocities of abortion," he says. "[A fellow protester] over there preaching the Gospel, that God has a judgement coming upon all men for all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Unless you repent, or you shall all likewise perish."