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Protesters at Opposing Rallies Call to Protect and Defund Planned Parenthood

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Protesters for and against Planned Parenthood turned out across the country on Saturday — motivated by what activists on both sides described as a “wake-up call” that came in the form of the 2016 presidential election and the Women’s March that followed.

“I feel like this past year has really woken people up,” said Tiffany Caudill, one of the organizers of a Denver rally in support of Planned Parenthood on Saturday.

She said more than 3,000 people planned on attending the rally in a park outside the office of Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. It was one of a series of events organized by abortion rights advocates on Saturday, partially in response to simultaneous protests at about 120 clinics calling for Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

In New Jersey, about 130 Planned Parenthood supporters signed up to host events aimed at writing “Valentines” to lawmakers, said Casey Olesko, communications manager for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey.

“I feel like we got sort of complacent and comfortable with the status quo and didn’t realize how quickly things can change and didn’t realize how many things can be at threat if we don’t participate,” Caudill said.

Demonstrators gathered to counter a defund Planned Parenthood protest outside a Planned Parenthood in Kent, Wash., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Anti-abortion activists emboldened by the new administration of President Donald Trump staged rallies around the country Saturday calling for the federal government to cut off payments to Planned Parenthood, but in some cities counter-protests dwarfed the demonstrations. (Grant Hindsley/seattlepi.com via AP)
Demonstrators gathered to counter a defund Planned Parenthood protest outside a Planned Parenthood in Kent, Wash., on Feb. 11, 2017.Grant Hindsley—seattlepi.com/AP

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, felt much the same way when he witnessed hundreds of thousands turn out for the women’s march last month.

“That event was really a wake-up call to how important it is for pro-lifers to make their voices heard in the public square,” said Scheidler, who was one of the primary organizers of Saturday’s protests outside Planned Parenthood centers in 45 states.

He and other anti-abortion advocates see the current political moment, with the election of President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, as a key opportunity.

“We want to see Congress and the White House encouraged to follow through on their campaign promise to defund Planned Parenthood and divert that money,” he said, adding that he wants the money to fund health clinics that do not perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood affiliates received $553 million in government funding in 2014, largely from Medicaid reimbursements. That money does not fund abortions, but pays for medical services that include cancer screenings and HIV testing.

Scheidler — who protested Saturday outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, Illinois — said he intends keep up the effort in the future. “We don’t hold a rally every decade, we hold rallies constantly,” he said.

Caudill said she is prepared to “keep showing up every weekend” for protests against Trump’s policies. The 31-year-old mother said she has long been active in protests, walking her first picket line in elementary school with teachers who were on strike. “It just has continued from there,” she said.

“Planned Parenthood provides vital resources to the community, not just in the form of abortions — which is what they like to focus on — but they provide wellness exams, breast exams, cancer screenings,” Caudill said, referring to anti-abortion advocates. “They are essentially asking to defund an organization that provides healthcare to our low-income community, further oppressing them — and we won’t stand for that.”

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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com