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Planned Parenthood protest held in Towson

About 60 protesters gathered Saturday outside a Planned Parenthood office in Towson, joining nationwide demonstrations against the organization after controversial videos about the use of fetal tissue surfaced last month.

Additional protests across Maryland were planned, including in Baltimore and Annapolis, in conjunction with efforts to stop federal funding for the organization, said Kurt Linnemann, organizer of the Towson protest.

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"Our message is to expose Planned Parenthood and what they do," said Linnemann, who is also the regional director for the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform in Maryland.

But Planned Parenthood of Maryland officials said the nationwide protests were aimed at disrupting services and disturbing clients.

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"These rallies are meant to intimidate and harass our patients, who rely on our non-profit health centers for basic, preventive health care — like lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, STI and HIV tests or family planning," Dr. Amina Chaudhry, the interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said in a statement.

Protests against Planned Parenthood have ramped up after videos secretly recorded by an anti-abortion rights group emerged in July and showed officials with the organization discussing providing aborted fetal organs for research.

Planned Parenthood has said it collects tissue at some of its facilities from patients who want to donate for scientific research but that it does not profit from the tissue, and that the process is legal.

But the videos have set off outrage and caused some politicians to rally to pull federal funding for the organization. Supporters, however, argue that funding shouldn't be removed because abortions are only a small percentage of the services offered by Planned Parenthood.

At the corner of Loch Raven Boulevard and Joan Avenue on Saturday morning, demonstrators, mostly from the Baltimore region, held signs showing pictures of fetuses or reading "Abortion is Murder."

Drivers passing by honked their horns, or waved from a car window, including one who gave the group a middle-finger salute. Several uniformed Baltimore County police officers stood watch nearby.

No one was seen coming or going from Planned Parenthood's Towson office. The website said it was closed Saturday. However, the organization's Annapolis location, where Planned Parenthood supporters formed a counter-demonstration to the protesters, remained open and its services were not affected, the group said.

"Unlike these protesters, compassion is at the center of what we do, and we will continue to provide care, and a safe, welcoming environment for our patients, no matter what," Chaudhry said, adding that half of Planned Parenthood centers are in rural areas, where the organization might be the only provider patients will visit.

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Several protesters, including Dolores Orlando of Timonium, oppose Planned Parenthood because they said women have other options than abortion.

Orlando said she had long protested at the group's locations, praying for the employees and its patients.

But Saturday's event also drew some younger, first-time demonstrators who felt compelled to protest after watching the videos online.

Vic King, 29, from Better Waverly, who described himself as "one of the least political people in the world," was at Saturday's protest with his two daughters, ages 1 and 3. He said he wanted to draw attention to Planned Parenthood practices after watching the videos.

"I'd guess I'd be pro-life generally," he said, describing that he doesn't support abortions, and is also against the death penalty. He doesn't believe protesting will make abortion illegal, but thinks the organization should be investigated.

"This isn't going to make abortions go away," he said. "But the specifics of Planned Parenthood's practices are coming to light. To me, that's really horrific."

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Justin Stanbro, 35, stopped at the protest with his wife and five children. The Pennsylvania family was on their way to vacation in Williamsburg, Va., but felt compelled to stop at the protest.

Stanbro said he and his family regularly participate in anti-abortion events because he feels it's a moral issue that needs to be discussed. He said often people will talk about the ethics of animal testing, but the abortion debate is considered taboo.

"A lot of people just want to ignore it," he said. "We don't want to ignore it."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5


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