A sea of pink signs, T-shirts and buttons enveloped the Diag as students and Ann Arbor residents gathered to support Planned Parenthood early Saturday afternoon, in response to proposed legislation from Congress to cut funding for the organization.
The rally — which featured Debbie Dingell, political activist and wife of U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D – Mich.) — drew more than 400 students and local residents to the Diag to show their support for Planned Parenthood’s national “Truth Tour,” which aims to mobilize Americans to speak out against the proposed cuts.
In addition to the Planned Parenthood supporters, a crowd of about 50 counter-protesters held graphic anti-abortion signs and chanted “No” in response to speakers at the event.
Speaking over the continuous chant of protesters from the crowd, Dingell said she was shocked that women now have to fight to maintain rights they won decades ago, such as access to health care services and equality in the workforce.
“We fought for equality, and I think too many young women take for granted what they have,” Dingell said. “I never thought I would have to fight to keep what we fought for.”
At the rally, Dingell expressed her disapproval with the Republican Party’s attempt to cut Title X of the Public Health Service Act created by the federal government to fund organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide free health care services to women. The bill would eliminate about $330 million of funding through the end of September.
Dingell said it is an “indication of how extreme the Republicans have become” since they are trying to cut a program that was established under former Republican President Richard Nixon.
Dingell ended her speech by calling upon women of all ages to fight for their rights and continue the struggle for women’s equality in our society.
“Now is the time to let your voices be heard, to organize women and young women across the country,” Dingell said. “Do not become quiet and complacent.”
After the rally, Planned Parenthood supporters marched down to Liberty Plaza at the intersection of East Liberty and South Division. As they walked along State Street, dozens of motorists honked their horns in support of their cause.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily after the rally, Dingell said if the legislation passed, it would be large step backward for women’s rights.
“(Planned Parenthood) is the only way a lot of young women can get health care,” Dingell said. “…What scares me is that it’s not only about cutting Planned Parenthood, it’s the fact that they want to take funding away from Title X. This is about women going backwards.”
In an interview before the event, Lori Lamerand, CEO of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan, said even with funding from Title X, the organization still doesn’t have enough money to fund its services, adding that the generosity of private donors is critical to the organization’s functionality.
Lamerand added that without Planned Parenthood, low-income students and Ann Arbor residents would have no alternative to affordable health care and family planning options.
“On campus there is the University Health Service, but that is not necessarily on a sliding fee scale,” Lamerand said. “All of (Planned Parenthood’s) services accommodate women even if they don’t have other resources, and that is not true in any place else.”
LSA sophomore Christen Houck — who was holding a sign at the rally that read, “If it’s your choice, your body, use your own money” — said she thinks Planned Parenthood’s primary goal is to profit off abortions and not to educate or provide health care to women.
“Planned Parenthood is an abortion mill,” Houck said.
Lamerand said that abortions account for only a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s services, with 97 percent of its efforts focused on preventative medicine, birth control, breast screenings and gynecological care.
Houck added that women would not lose access to free health care and family planning services if Planned Parenthood disappeared, arguing that crisis pregnancy centers like Arbor Vitae, located on East Liberty Street, have been providing free health care and family planning services to women for years without funding from the federal government.
An LSA senior who wished to remain anonymous said she has been to Planned Parenthood numerous times during the course of her college career to receive affordable health care, birth control, and even an abortion. Without Planned Parenthood, she said, she would lose her primary source of health care.
“(Planned Parenthood) is a great investment that this country is making because otherwise I would be asking the government for even bigger support if it wasn’t for Planned Parenthood’s services,” she said.
A previous version of this article included the name of the woman who said she received an abortion from Planned Parenthood. It has since been removed.