Pro-life demonstrators hold vigil behind the downtown Planned Parenthood, as a part of the international 40 Days for Life campaign. Photo by Molly Solomon.
Pro-life demonstrators hold vigil behind the downtown Planned Parenthood, as a part of the international 40 Days for Life campaign. Photo by Molly Solomon.

A pro-life prayer and fasting vigil outside the Cedar Street entrance to the Planned Parenthood downtown began Sept. 22.

The group, affiliated with the international 40 Days for Life campaign, will continue the 40-day vigil through Oct. 31. The aproximately 10 participants, gather daily from 8 a.m. to around 7 p.m.

“We are pro-life, which is not a popular position, but I’m not here because it’s popular,” said participant Jeff Norman. “There is a difference between pro-life and anti-abortion … Pro-life is a sanctity-of-life ethic. If, for example, the pregnancy places the mother’s life in danger, we believe the decision is to abort the child and save the mother, to avoid losing two lives.”

The current campaign is the second of 2010 with participants in 238 locations across the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Northern Ireland and Denmark. Santa Cruz is one of the 25 locations where 40 DL demonstrations have been held in California, joining San José, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego.

“There is a small group of dedicated people who have been praying here every Saturday for a year, and we decided to do 40 DL,” said Rev. John Warburton of the Shrine of St. Joseph. “We are trying to help people who have been touched by this evil.”

More than 1 out of 3 women in the United States will have an abortion by the time they reach age 45, according to Planned Parenthood’s website.

While Planned Parenthood supports the 40 Days participants’ right to freedom of speech, their presence at the Pacific Avenue location is “unfortunate,” said Fran Linkin, associate director of public relations at Planned Parenthood Silicon Valley/Coastal Region, which includes Santa Cruz.

“That location is a health center — families go to the center for pediatric care and have to take their children in past the protestors outside,” Linkin said.

The Health Center Planned Parenthood office on Pacific Avenue offers a range of low- and no-cost services, some of which include general health care, HIV and STI testing, patient education, birth control and emergency contraception and LGBT services.

“[Planned Parenthood] does more for abortion prevention each day than the people protesting,” Linkin said. “Ninety-nine percent of what we do is sexual education, contraceptives and medical services.”

The pro-life proponents have also set up community resources, including maternity houses, post-abortion services and counseling and other medical assistance.

“We are trying to provide a future based on hope,” Norman said. “We’ve got support in place — is it complete? No. Is it state funded? No. But it is a start.”

As someone who was adopted into a loving family, Norman said it is one of his goals to educate women about abortion alternatives without passing judgment.

“We do not judge or condemn women who have had abortions, nor do we condone people doing that,” Norman said. “If anything, I would apologize to those women for not having been there for them to talk to and help them. If my mother had chosen to have an abortion instead, I would not be here today … No one can look into the future and say, ‘This child will have a difficult life, so it should be aborted.’”

The prayer vigil has been met with mixed response from the Santa Cruz community, Norman said. While some people have stopped by to offer support, the group has also received criticism.

“The other day a lady drove by and yelled, ‘Eff you’ out the window and flipped us off,” Norman said. “As she drove away I noticed she had a ‘tolerance’ sticker on her bumper. We live in a community that preaches tolerance, so let’s discuss the issues instead.”

Santa Cruz community member and UCSC alumna Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, who attended the first evening of a three-day counterprotest, said she would prefer to have a thoughtful conversation with the pro-life demonstrators. However, the polarization of the issue makes such a dialogue challenging.

“I hate that it becomes ‘us versus them,’” Ripley-Phipps said. “Everyone is doing what they feel is right, so we should have a real conversation about it, not just yell over each other. It’s hard to have a conversation about something you have a fundamental disagreement on. I think we should focus on education before abortion even becomes an issue — let’s use our energy and passion that way.”

Providing resources for the community should be the real goal, Linkin said.

“We are trying not to focus on the protests too much,” Linkin said. “Our focus is on being there for the people who need us and providing affordable help to everyone who comes to us.”