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Planned Parenthood foes, supporters face off in protests in Tampa Bay area

Planned Parenthood supporters do the wave during a Defund Planned Parenthood protest outside of the St. Petersburg Health Center in St. Petersburg on Saturday, February 11, 2017. Protests supporting defunding Planned Parenthood happened across the country on Saturday. About 20-30 defund Planned Parenthood supporters showed up to the protest as well as about 200 Planned Parenthood supporters. They stood on opposite sides of 1st Avenue S, cheering as cars drove by honking.
Planned Parenthood supporters do the wave during a Defund Planned Parenthood protest outside of the St. Petersburg Health Center in St. Petersburg on Saturday, February 11, 2017. Protests supporting defunding Planned Parenthood happened across the country on Saturday. About 20-30 defund Planned Parenthood supporters showed up to the protest as well as about 200 Planned Parenthood supporters. They stood on opposite sides of 1st Avenue S, cheering as cars drove by honking.
Published Feb. 12, 2017

It was hard to tell which group the honking was for as cars zoomed past the site of an ongoing protest and counter-protest Saturday in front of Tampa Planned Parenthood.

The groups, separated by the clinic's driveway, engaged with drivers passing by, but not one another, as they vied for support.

A woman in the middle of a median on N 56th Street hoisted a sign above her head that said, "Honk if you are pro-life." A priest led the group of about 120 people in saying the Lord's Prayer.

On the other side, about 150 people dressed in pink clutched matching signs that said "I support Planned Parenthood." Some wore pink knit hats with cat ears, made popular during last month's Women's March to show opposition to President Donald Trump.

Similar scenes played out in front of the Planned Parenthood-St. Petersburg Health Center and across the country on Saturday, as those in support of Republican congressional leaders' plans to defund the organization turned out to demonstrate. The 100-year-old women's health care provider offers birth control and other women's health services, including abortions, at more than 600 centers across the country.

Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republicans will move to take all federal funding — roughly $400 million in Medicaid money — away from Planned Parenthood as part of a proposal that also would dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Protesters, and Republican leaders, have called for that funding to go instead to community health centers that do not perform abortions.

"We stand here unified for life for mothers and fathers," said Tampa protest organizer Jane Lupia. "We're not trying to take away health care . . . you can't call abortion health care."

Planned Parenthood advocates say as many as 400,000 women would lose access to health care.

Outside the St. Petersburg clinic, a group of about 30 protesters were outnumbered by more than 150 supporters of Planned Parenthood. They stretched from Sixth to Seventh streets along First Avenue S.

"Women's rights are human rights," said Patricia Gifford, 33 of Pinellas Park. "I just want our leadership to know that a lot of people support Planned Parenthood."

Lupia, the Tampa anti-abortion protester, said the spirit of the day was not anger toward Planned Parenthood supporters, but hope and prayer instead.

"We just hope they change their minds," she said, "and see that abortion is murder."

Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida released a statement in response to the "#ProtestPP Coalition" that said it serves more than 40,000 people a year in the area and more than 90 percent of it services are related to preventive care.

But the group's critics call it corrupt. Protesters' signs on Saturday said Planned Parenthood lies. Some wore shirts that said, "Babies are not spare parts."

Despite their sharp disagreement, each side managed to protest peacefully without incident.

Times staff photographer Eve Edelheit contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.