Damaris Waits, left, holds a sign opposing abortion while standing with other abortion opponents outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Portland on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Every Friday morning, John Andrade of Brunswick arrives in downtown Portland with large cardboard signs, a sound speaker and his Bible.

This week, the 39-year-old Christian street minister was joined by about 10 other people just after 9 a.m. They gathered on a thin stretch of sidewalk beneath the blue-and-white sign of the Planned Parenthood clinic on Congress Street and began their protest.

The protesters stood behind large signs comparing abortion to slavery and eugenics, offered religious pamphlets insisting “human life is present from the moment of conception” and called out to patients escorted into the clinic by volunteers wearing pink safety vests.

“We’re here, always,” Andrade said. “When nothing’s happening on a national level, we’re here. When it’s the only thing people are talking about, we’re here.”

Earlier this week, a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court revealed that five of the high court’s nine justices voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that has protected the right to seek an abortion for the last 50 years.

Hundreds of Mainers supporting access to abortion gathered for a protest outside the federal courthouse in Portland on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after Politico reported on the draft. Meanwhile, anti-abortion protesters who gather downtown each Friday morning said their work will continue no matter what the Supreme Court decides.

Advertisement

“For us, this isn’t that different of a day,” Andrade said.

While national groups opposing abortion have targeted the nation’s legal landscape, the Friday morning protesters said they’re interested in changing individuals.

“I’m grateful when our laws align with biblical morality,” Andrade said. “But at the end of the day, we want hearts changed. We could have all the laws in the world and people are still going to be doing things that are harmful toward other human beings.”

Protesters normally gather outside the Portland clinic Friday mornings because that’s the one day a week Planned Parenthood offers in-clinic abortions performed by a doctor. The clinic also offers a range of other health care services on Fridays and throughout the week, including birth control, transgender hormone therapy and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Protesters did not get much engagement from patients entering the clinic Friday. Many passers-by also chose not to engage, although some accepted the protesters’ pamphlets and voiced their support.

“Now you’re talking,” one older man said. He referred to the Planned Parenthood clinic as “Planned Murder” before moving on.

Advertisement

Others voiced their dissent.

“Boo to you,” one person said, addressing some of the protesters face to face. “Boo to you!”

At one point, a woman asked Andrade, “Do you even have a uterus?” Someone down the street from the clinic yelled for protesters to “shut up, you’re too loud.”

EXPLETIVES, HONKING HORNS

People driving by honked their horns. It was unclear sometimes whether this was a supportive gesture or not. It was clearer when drivers rolled down their car windows to shout expletives.

Lisa Daniello was quietly walking by the clinic with her dog when she stopped and told Andrade and a reporter that she was concerned about the Supreme Court’s draft opinion.

Advertisement

“I don’t think they should take abortions away from people,” Daniello said. She had endured what she called a traumatic pregnancy, and she almost lost her sister who attempted to perform an abortion on herself.

“Men don’t realize this,” Daniello said. “You don’t know what it’s like.”

Should the Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Maine would still allow abortions under the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act, which has been in place since the 1990s. State law allows abortions until 22 to 24 weeks, and after that only when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

A group of women from New Hampshire who joined Friday’s protest said their state had a similar law to Maine’s. They declined to share their names with a reporter, and said overturning Roe v. Wade was “one small step,” and that states are where “the battle is won.”

“I was happy to hear that’s what was in the (Supreme Court) draft,” said protester Damaris Waits, but she thinks some in the anti-abortion community who are emboldened by the news are misinformed. “The decision will just lead to states’ rights,” said Waits, who stood beside the door patients enter to reach the clinic.

BETWEEN THE PROTESTERS AND THE DOOR

Advertisement

Between Waits and the door Friday was Marian Starkey, a volunteer greeter who is present for most of the Friday protests. As Starkey ushered patients inside quickly, Waits called out to them. “Can you talk to us at least before you make any decisions?” Waits said.

Volunteers for the clinic are instructed not to engage with protesters or members of the public while working. But in an interview after Friday’s demonstration, Starkey said she is concerned about how the overturning of Roe v. Wade could impact her community and country.

Volunteer escorts with Planned Parenthood assist two women entering the clinic in Portland past abortion opponents on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Starkey began volunteering as a greeter at an abortion clinic in Arlington, Virginia, in 2007, and began volunteering at Planned Parenthood in Portland when she moved back home to Maine. She’s been a volunteer, greeting and guiding people into the clinic, almost every Friday for the last 10 years.

Starkey has faith that Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, “will do everything she can” to make sure abortions are accessible, but she’s less confident in former Gov. Paul LePage, the Republican vying to replace Mills. LePage did not say whether he would seek new restrictions in a statement following the leaked opinion, but he did voice his support for existing restrictions and called for an end to abortion when he was governor.

“I’m concerned about the future of abortion access in Maine,” Starkey said.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.