An estimated crowd of more than 1,000 people marched with bright pink signs Saturday morning through downtown Bloomington in support of Planned Parenthood and women’s health care.
In a rally that echoed the Women’s March in Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration, organizers said they wanted to protect funding for Planned Parenthood and send a message to local lawmakers. More than 1,500 people said on Facebook that they attended.
Melle Hany of Bloomington, a volunteer for Planned Parenthood, said she and her sister, Lauren, of Normal, organized the rally due to pushback against choice and women’s rights.
“We wanted to do something that showed people visibly how many people supported them,” said Hany.
Hany said the numbers at the rally exceeded her wildest expectations. The pink-clad crowd women, men, and children marched south on Main Street from the McLean County Museum of History, then east on Market before turning north again onto the sidewalk and lawn of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Hany said she was shocked and amazed at the large turnout. At one point, the line of protestors stretched from the west side of the McLean County Museum of History to the steps of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
“We showed people that Planned Parenthood was about so much more than abortion that they focus on,” said Hany. “They’re for women’s rights, Pap smears, physical health, transgender rights, and men’s rights. We just wanted to make sure people knew the scope of what they actually offer and how important they are to the community.”
Planned Parenthood — which provides a wide range of health care services for women, including abortion — receives more than $500 million a year from the federal government, about 75 percent of which comes from Medicaid.
According to Planned Parenthood, about 3 percent of the services it provided in 2014 were abortion-related. The group says the vast bulk of its services instead go toward contraception and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. It also provides cancer screenings and other women's services.
Hany said another goal was to let Central Illinois politicians know they are being watched. She thinks they are paying attention.
“I think they’re scared. I think that’s why they haven’t shown up in public spaces. Because they see what happens when this many people show up, and they’re afraid,” said Hany.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion rights protesters gathered outside Planned Parenthood clinics across the country Saturday.
Jason Rambeck of Gridley was one of the counter-protesters in Bloomington standing with signs in a parking lot along East Street as the parade of protesters streamed by on the sidewalk.
He and three others from Journey Family Fellowship church in Bloomington came to voice their opposition to Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.
“Planned Parenthood is just one of the places that do abortions,” said Rambeck. “It doesn’t matter how many children are killed or ripped apart by Planned Parenthood, just one is a problem. We believe all little boys and girls no matter what age, born or unborn, from adolescents to toddlers to zygotes to embryos deserve our love and protection.”
Rambeck said funding Planned Parenthood services other than abortion didn’t bother him.
“We don’t care if they are privately or publicly funded. We really care about the abortion. Killing the unborn children in the violent way it’s done, or any way it’s done, is just terrible,” he said.
*** This story has been edited to say Journey Family Fellowship church is in Bloomington. An earlier version said the church was in Gridley.
NPR's Colin Dwyer contributed to this report.
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