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BLOOMINGTON — More than 1,000 people swarmed through downtown Bloomington on Saturday to show support for public funding of Planned Parenthood.

About a dozen people attended the rally to stand in opposition to abortions and public funding of the organization. Anti-abortion activists staged protests at Planned Parenthood locations across the country, but sometimes were outnumbered by supporters. 

In Bloomington, supporters chanted and waved signs while marching around the downtown square before moving to the south lawn of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

Marcia Lloyd of Normal joined the rally with her friend Debra Zielka of Normal and granddaughter Amiah Miens.

“We’ve been getting really active lately,” said Lloyd. “Those of us who are liberal have been quiet for too long.” 

Zielka said she marched because she feels like the country has “gone backwards 500 years.”

“The government shouldn’t tell us what to do with our bodies,” added Amiah, 11.

Marchers included men, women and children of all ages. Some were dressed in pink and carried heart-shaped balloons.

Shayna Watchinksi and Bart Hickey, both of Bloomington, held a pink, pro-Planned Parenthood banner between them along the rally route.

“It’s important to stay visible and support causes important to you and to let nothing beat you down,” said Watchinski. “It’s refreshing to see a lot of people in the community feel the same way.”

“Planned Parenthood is the only sexual health care a lot of poor people can receive,” said Hickey. “It’s not just about abortion. When I was in high school in the mid-'90s, it was the only place to get condoms without feeling embarrassed.”

According to Planned Parenthood, 35 percent of its services are used for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, another 35 percent for contraceptives, 16 percent for cancer screening and prevention, 10 percent for other women's health services, 3 percent for abortion services and 1 percent for other services.

Federal tax money doesn't pay for abortions at Planned Parenthood, but the organization receives reimbursement through Medicaid for services like birth control, cancer screenings and HIV testing.

Jason Rambeck of Gridley stood along the march route in opposition of abortion.

“I’m here to stand up for the little boys and girls yet to be born. Every child deserves love and respect. I know Planned Parenthood offers a lot of services, but any amount of abortion is not OK,” said Rambeck.

Bia Smallwood of Normal also protested against Planned Parenthood services at the rally, holding a sign that said, “Choose life. Your mom and dad did.”

“I’m standing for the truth. We should all be concerned about the mothers, too, because girls die from abortions,” said Smallwood.

Lauren Hany of Bloomington said the nationwide protests encouraged her to organize Saturday’s counter-protest in Bloomington.

“It went so much better than we expected," said Hany. "We were anticipating a little push-back, but everybody was respectful and the positivity of the crowd was great.”

Hany invited people from the crowd to speak from the steps of the BCPA about how Planned Parenthood has affected them.

“We had people speak to show the repercussions that could occur by stripping (Planned Parenthood) funding,” said Hany.

Hany created a Facebook event page to draw people to the rally and more than 1,400 people said they would attend. Bloomington police estimated the final count at more than 1,000.

Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer


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