News

Mar 13
MASSLIVE
on February 11, 2017 at 6:09 PM, updated February 11, 2017 at 6:22 PM
SPRINGFIELD -- Supporters of Planned Parenthood packed the steps of City Hall on Saturday, demanding greater access to reproductive health care for women across the country. The afternoon rally, dubbed "Our Bodies, Our Justice," drew about 100 people who are opposed to national efforts to strip the community health organization of taxpayer funding. Activists and elected officials also called on Congress to leave the Affordable Care Act in place and, at the state level, urged passage of the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
Organizers offered free buses from Amherst and Northampton. "We are at a point right now where it is all hands on deck," said Jossie Valentin, a Holyoke city councilor who spoke at the rally. "The pressure is working." Valentin said supporters of women's reproductive freedom should continue to demonstrate, and hold their leaders accountable at the ballot box. "If they are not representing you, you will vote them out!" she said. State Reps. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, and John Scibak, D-South Hadley, offered their support as well. Vega said the Trump administration is "shortsighted about where we are in history and what we've accomplished, and ill-informed about what Planned Parenthood really is about." He said his wife relied on Planned Parenthood for health care when she lacked insurance. In addition to OB-GYN services, Planned Parenthood offers physicals, diabetes and anemia screening, certain vaccines, men's sexual health care, and prostate and colon cancer screening. Performances at the rally included the dance troupe The Movement Project, a reading from "The Vagina Monologues," and a singalong of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," also known as the "Black National Anthem." Debra Fletcher, a counter-protester who stood by herself at the top of the City Hall steps, said Planned Parenthood is unnecessary and promotes promiscuity. A black Trump voter, she was upset at a lack of racial diversity at the rally, despite the strong social justice message emphasizing inclusiveness. Organizers said the rally would look at reproductive health "through racial, gender and economic justice lenses." "I don't know them. They're from South Hadley, Northampton, all these different places, but not Springfield," said Fletcher. "All these people are good, but I believe they've been fed the wrong story." She would rather out-of-towners come to Springfield to rally against drugs and violent crime. "Black people's check has been saying 'insufficient funds' forever," she said, "but when they're sick, they go to the doctor. When they want an abortion, they get an abortion." The two-hour rally was in jeopardy earlier this week. Organizers found out that they did not meet the requirements for a permit, and asked for help from the American Civil Liberties Union. But Mayor Domenic Sarno stepped in and approved the permit, saying that, while public safety is paramount, free speech will not be "stifled."