Mar 222005
 
Authors: Sara Crocker

Saturday morning was quiet on 20th Avenue and Vine Street. Only a few blocks east of City Park in Denver, cars lined the residential block and signs announced a nearby garage sale.

But under the tall oak trees outside Planned Parenthood, 2030 20th Ave., another sign caught the attention of passersby. The oversized sign lay against the tree, showing a dismembered unborn fetus. Under the photo were the words "Abortion kills children."

Other pictures of fetuses lay against the wrought-iron fence of the clinic. Beyond the fence, large tarps had been erected to block any view into the clinic's parking lot. Two ladders stood on each end of the sidewalk, providing group members a view into the lot.

Some of those gathered outside the clinic sat in lawn chairs, while others paced back and forth around the corridor of the building, singing and praying. Some even carried a cross across their shoulders. Others carried signs or wore pictures around their necks.

The crowd members, although not all members of a single group, said they were all there for the same purpose: to dissuade women from getting abortions.

They call themselves sidewalk counselors, and they said they have been coming to the clinic for almost 20 years to save the lives of what they call unborn children.

"We can help them make other choices besides murdering babies," said Donna Boblett, an Aurora resident and a member of Colorado Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.

She and others gather outside and pass out literature as a way to give women information before they make their final decision about getting an abortion. They also pass out fliers that list other clinics and groups a woman can contact to assist her, should she choose to continue her pregnancy.

But Crystal Clinkenbeard, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the literature the groups disburse is riddled with factual inaccuracies and misrepresents the truth.

She said the pictures these groups use are another weapon in their attack to scare women out of having an abortion.

"The pictures and images they use are not accurate representations of the truth," Clinkenbeard said.

Boblett and others said they prevent about 75 to 100 women from having abortions each year. A binder filled with pictures shows women with the children they ultimately decided to have.

"A lot of times the girl will come back with her child," said Audrey Himmelmann, a Denver resident. "It's what makes it worthwhile."

The Planned Parenthood in Denver performs about 4,700 abortions a year, Clinkenbeard said, but Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains saw 113,000 clients overall. Also, of the 51 clinics, five perform surgical abortions.

Because of this, she said it is unfair for these people, whom Planned Parenthood views as protestors, to assume that everyone who visits the clinic is seeking an abortion.

She said the majority of Planned Parenthood services in Colorado, and nationwide, are aimed at preventing unplanned pregnancies.

But many in the group remained convinced that the majority of women entering the clinic were seeking abortions.

Himmelmann said she has seen women dragged in by their parents and boyfriends.

However, Clinkenbeard said Planned Parenthood staff members would not perform an abortion if they thought the woman was being forced.

As cars pulled into the parking lot, members of the group gathered around the driveway, and others ran up the ladders and began yelling at the clients to repent for their sins and to not murder their child.

Two escorts stood by the driveway. They are there to ensure the clients' safety and to diffuse some of the tension, Clinkenbeard said.

Planned Parenthood has a non-engagement policy, which means its staff is not allowed to interact with anyone who is demonstrating outside the clinic.

While the sidewalk counselors, such as Denver resident Ken Scott, said they believe in nonviolent demonstration, there have been instances of violence in the past.

Clinkenbeard said there have been cases of verbal harassment, physical altercations and some property damage.

Himmelmann, who has been coming to demonstrate outside the clinic for about 15 years, said there used to be hundreds of people who would gather outside the Planned Parenthood. She said some would stand and block the door, while others would act as sidewalk counselors or pray.

But in 1993 the "Bubble Bill" was introduced in the Colorado legislature. It states that those demonstrating outside a health center cannot block access to it, engage anyone within 8 feet of them without the person's consent or try to engage anyone within a 100-foot radius of the health center.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the bill last year.

The sidewalk counselors said there is someone outside every day Planned Parenthood is open, but Saturdays are the day when the most people come out.

Scott said he began demonstrating in 1991 and did it every day the clinic was open, for 11 years straight.

"Do we do it because we hate them?" Scott asked. "No. We're trying to wake them up."

Anna Partin, a sophomore speech major, said she supports abortion rights, and if she decided to have an abortion, the sidewalk counselors probably would not have an impact on her decision.

"It probably would make me think, but once I made the decision I probably wouldn't go back on it," Partin said.

While the Planned Parenthood in Denver sees these demonstrators regularly, the Planned Parenthood in Fort Collins does not.

Daniel Kessler, a public affairs coordinator for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said occasionally the clinics see protestors, but he had never seen any of them try to restrict patients' access.

Clinkenbeard said she would like to see the sidewalk counselors work with Planned Parenthood and focus on family planning instead of demonstrating outside of clinics.

"Screaming insults at someone on the sidewalk is not the way you help someone make a responsible choice."

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