The group stands street-side wearing sandwich signs and holding posters that support their cause. Many of the members hold rosaries and pray together, while others signal to passersby with the wave of a sign.
Stand and Pray, the Walker county division of the pro-life organization, Coalition for Life, picketed outside the Huntsville Planned Parenthood clinic on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. They plan to continue supporting their cause by protesting every week at the same time.
This is the first time a group protested in Huntsville at the Planned Parenthood clinic.
“We want Planned Parenthood out of our schools and out of our libraries,” said Stella Milam, a member of Stand and Pray.
The members began protesting Planned Parenthood’s services on Ash Wednesday, as they are a non-denominational group of church members from the Huntsville area.
“We’re praying for a peaceful ending to Planned Parenthood,” Milam said.
She believes the ultimate goal of Planned Parenthood is to encourage America’s youth to engage in sexual activity, become pregnant and have an abortion to bring in more revenue for the clinics.
Stand and Pray members feel Planned Parenthood encourages sexual activity, but does not teach people about the repercussions of such behavior.
Milam also believes that contraception is immoral, as a fertilized egg could potentially pass through a woman’s body without attaching to the uterine wall through the use of birth control pills. She said she feels the reason older women often have trouble conceiving is due to long term affects birth control may have on the body when taken at a young age.
Stand and Pray members believe Planned Parenthood uses federal funds to perform abortions and other services. They feel that they are paying for these procedures through their taxes.
Other reservations Stand and Pray has about Planned Parenthood include the counseling the clinic offers to sexually active people and the education services they provide.
“They’re not reporting the sexual activity of teenagers to the police,” said Ellis Milam, another member of Stand and Pray.
Leasha Scheel, Stand and Pray leader, emphasized Milam’s point.
“(Planned Parenthood is) protecting statutory rapists on our tax dollars,” she said.
“They don’t do anything to prevent disease or promiscuity,” Milam said. “It’s a money-making operation. They sell their products, including abortions.”
Scheel wore a camcorder around her neck and said it was for the group’s protection in case the clinic took violent action against them. Scheel claimed that Planned Parenthood employees took pictures of the members of Stand and Pray, the members’ cars and their license plates on the first day they protested.
Members of the pro-life organization stressed the services of other clinics in the Huntsville area, which provide pregnancy counseling and treatment such as the Pregnancy Care Center, the Gabriel Project, WIC and UTMB.
Planned Parenthood is a non-biased, non-profit, low cost organization geared to aid in family planning and well being of the sexual health of both women and men. Aside from medical assistance for a variety of sexual health related cases, classes on family planning, pregnancy tests, contraceptives and some treatments for sexually transmitted diseases are available through the organization.
The Planned Parenthood location in Huntsville is a member of the Southeast Texas division, which encompasses all affiliated clinics extending from Galveston to Nacogdoches and College Station.
The Huntsville Planned Parenthood clinic does not offer abortion services. However, low cost services are available at this location and include STD/HIV/AIDS testing, pregnancy testing, many birth control options and well women exams.
“That office is there for family planning,” said Cris Perez, vice president of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood. “(It is) for healthcare services that people need in that area.”
Perez rebutted Stand and Pray’s idea on federally funded abortions.
“Tax dollars do not go to abortions,” she said. “Abortions are paid for by patients, not by state or federal governments.”
Perez also stated that Planned Parenthood encourages healthy sexual behavior through education classes.
“We have a vast education department that is abstinence based,” Perez said. “We teach medically accurate, age appropriate sexuality. (We teach) it’s best if you don’t have sex, but if you do, this is what can happen. But it’s more than just sexual education – you’ve got to teach them self esteem, too.”
Perez said the reason Stand and Pray has a video camera is not for its own protection, but to instead videotape patients and clients of Planned Parenthood. Perez said the organization allegedly takes the license plate of the individuals, somehow retrieves the home address of the owner of the car and then sends a postcard to the address. The card insinuates that a member of that person’s family was seen at a Planned Parenthood clinic for abortion services.
An article written July 14 for the College Station newspaper, The Eagle, named a Texas A&M student and several Planned Parenthood employees in the Brazos county area who had received the said cards.
The Eagle reported that a 20-year-old student visited the clinic for birth control pills, and later her parents in Dallas were mailed an anonymous postcard with no return address that suggested their daughter went to Planned Parenthood for an abortion.
Many clinic volunteers, interns and employees have also received the anonymous mail. Their letters however, are written not to inform.
The Coalition for Life division in Brazos County claimed they had nothing to do with such letters and cards as a group; however, they could not accurately say if a member of the group sent them of their own free will.
Though sending mail is not a violent act or a threat, Planned Parenthood workers are concerned that protesters in Huntsville may take on similar actions.
Students at SHSU feel the Planned Parenthood in Huntsville should remain open, despite protests and picketers. Students think the clinic is a useful and helpful resource for sexually active students who do not have a lot of money to spend on health care.
“I think it’s a good thing that we have (Planned Parenthood in Huntsville) because we are a college town that has people who are sexually active,” junior Courtney Miller said. “(The picketers) have the right to voice their opinion, but (Planned Parenthood) shouldn’t be shut down.”
“I think it’s great that (Planned Parenthood) provides an opportunity for services for college students, but I do support abstinence,” junior Joseph Ordanes said.
“They’re not going to stop people from having sex, so they can at least be safe about it,” junior Brad Agee said.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for people to be educated on sex and abstinence, but I think everybody has a right to what they believe in,” senior Heather Mingus said.
For more information on the Walker County Coalition for Life, e-mail email@example.com. For more information on Planned Parenthood, its services and fees, visit http://www.pphouston.org or http://www.plannedparenthood.org. or call (936) 295-6396.