PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Hundreds of anti-abortion protesters packed the street outside a Planned Parenthood clinic Friday to object to a state legislator’s recent treatment of demonstrators at the site and call for his resignation.
Two videos in which Democratic state Rep. Brian Sims badgers anti-abortion protesters have outraged activists in recent days and inspired fundraisers for their cause.
A woman who appeared with her daughters in one of the videos addressed the rally, which included protesters who said they’d never been to one before. One of those, Anita McGlynn, said she was concerned that Sims was threatening peaceful demonstrators.
“What I saw was a white man harassing teenage girls and an old woman and threatening a cornerstone of our democracy, which is peaceful protest,” said McGlynn, 51, a self-employed writer and researcher who says she is a pro-life Democrat. “That actually galvanized me. Our Democratic ideals are at stake.”
In one video shot last week outside the Planned Parenthood facility in his district, Sims berated an unidentified woman, asking her a stream of questions and calling her actions disgusting, racist and shameful. The woman largely ignores him, at one point taking a rosary out of her bag.
A second video that Sims posted in April has since come to light. In it, Sims peppers a woman with three teenage girls with questions. At one point, he described them as “pseudo-Christians.” Sims promised to donate $100 to Planned Parenthood if someone was able to identify the protesters. Ashley Garecht told Friday’s rally that she was the woman in the video and two of the girls are her daughters and the third is their friend.
As a riposte to Sims’ promise to donate to Planned Parenthood, Garecht and her husband Joe launched a GoFundMe page, which has raised over $118,000 in three days for the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia.
“Our hope was that something really, really positive would come out of this really, really bad situation,” said Joe Garecht. “We’re happy that something good came out of it.”
A group called Live Action organized the “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” organized Friday’s rally to draw attention to Sims’ actions. The street in front of the clinic was packed curb to curb with protesters, some carrying signs reading “Pro-Life, Pro-Love” and “I Regret My Abortion” others waving flags, holding large crucifixes. Some chanted “resign now.”
Despite the crowds, Planned Parenthood was open for business and escorts in light orange vests hustled patients through the throngs into the clinic as the rally continued.
Planned Parenthood said in a statement it doesn’t condone confronting protesters but didn’t mention Sims by name.
“Patients do not come to our health centers to make a political statement. They come to access high-quality, affordable reproductive health care,” said Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania. “We trust patients to make their own, fully informed sexual and reproductive health care decisions.”
On Tuesday, Sims posted a video on Twitter in response to the outrage his actions has provoked. In it, he said “two wrongs don’t make a right.” He also acknowledged that his behavior was “aggressive.”
“I can do better and I will do better for the women of Pennsylvania,” he said.
Sims couldn’t be reached Friday for comment.
Ashley Garecht said she hopes Sims apologizes to her daughters and their friend.
“He made grave errors in his actions and it’s his responsibility as an adult and as an elected official to own those mistakes,” she said after the rally. “I have forgiven him, and tomorrow is another day. He says he wants to do better, and I hope that apologizing and owning up to his mistakes is part of that.”