Abortion: Police Absence Still Presents Problems | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Abortion: Police Absence Still Presents Problems

Before February of last year, things guaranteed to be outside Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania's Liberty Avenue clinic Downtown included protesters, escorts and police officers. But citywide belt-tightening has cost the clinic the cops - or at least a constant presence of police.


"It was nothing philosophical; it was financial," says Jodi Hirsh, director of public affairs for the Planned Parenthood office. Now, she says, when anti-abortion protesters demonstrating outside the clinic get out of hand, folks at the clinic have to dial 911 to summon police.


"They try to block patients from coming in, they harass patients after they've said, 'No thank you, I don't want your information,'" Hirsh says. The lack of a consistent police presence has emboldened protesters, who she says occasionally make anti-Semitic remarks toward pro-choice escorts, some of whom are Jewish.


"The police being there, there was a real sense of law and order," Hirsh says. "Their presence ensured that."


A recent Saturday morning saw about a dozen protesters outside the clinic -- some praying and singing, some holding graphic posters depicting mangled fetuses, and some approaching possible patients. The protesters say they still see police fairly often, but they haven't changed their methods.


"Without the police here, it's really no different," says Alex Paladin, 13. "We're not going to stop doing what we're doing."


Frank Parente has been protesting outside abortion clinics since 1984. "They've got better things to do than violate" protestors' rights, he says of police.


"The police were pretty aggressive," when they were a constant presence, says protester Bob Newman. Some mornings, police get called several times, but Newman hadn't seen any police that week.

"When they respond, they have been very reasonable," he adds. "They want to keep peace on both sides."

Concludes Planned Parenthood's Hirsh: "I can't say enough that it would be in the best interest of all parties for the police to be there."

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