Planned Parenthood drew heated attacks and passionate defenders at Juneau rallies held Thursday on the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Anti-abortion and abortion- rights groups held noon and evening rallies in front of the state Capitol, marking the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 that made abortion legal in the United States.
An afternoon anti-abortion rally drew more than 100 people carrying signs that read "It's a child, not a choice" and "Stop killing babies." The evening abortion-rights demonstration drew about half as many people holding protest signs reading "Keep abortion legal" and "I vote pro choice."
James Sedlak, executive director of STOPP International, the anti-Planned Parenthood branch of the American Life League, spoke at the noon rally.
Planned Parenthood is an organization that provides sex education services, contraceptive resources and abortions at various clinics nationwide. Planned Parenthood has four clinics in Alaska.
Sedlak said Planned Parenthood nationwide kills more unborn babies each week than all of the people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The organization's intent is that "no baby escape the womb," he said. "They are intent on destroying young people," he said.
Sedlak later led the audience in a chant: "Planned Parenthood get out of town."
During the evening rally, abortion rights advocates said Planned Parenthood's mission is to educate and provide a variety of options for women, not just peddle abortions for profit.
"There are people who say don't let Planned Parenthood in here, but we need Planned Parenthood," said Kim Poole, a local pharmacist.
Poole said Planned Parenthood is about choice "and the right to make the choice by ourselves and not have it mandated to us."
She said criminalizing abortion would make women with unwanted pregnancies turn to "back alleys" and "dangerous clinics."
Juneau does not have a Planned Parenthood clinic or any other facility that provides abortions. But a Planned Parenthood office in Juneau established last year has given sex education presentations to local organizations such as the AWARE shelter, the Zach Gordon Youth Center and the Juneau Women's Health Forum.
Anna Franks, CEO for Planned Parenthood of Alaska, said the organization plans to open a reproductive health clinic in Juneau, but said it is uncertain when it will have the necessary funds.
It would cost about $500,000, and the group has collected about $50,000 in private donations, she said.
Elmer Ignell, 74, who attended the afternoon anti-abortion rally said he believes in the sanctity of life, calling abortion a "blight on America."
He said America is blessed by God because of the country's strong faith. He likened God's blessing to a canopy that protects the country and said legalized abortion puts America's standing with God in jeopardy.
"America needs to repent," Ignell said. "We say 'God bless America.' Now we also say 'God have mercy on America.' "
Jennifer LaRoe, 36, attended the evening abortion rights rally with her 10-month-old daughter, Lila.
"I really want to see a Planned Parenthood in Juneau," she said. "You don't have the right to an abortion in Juneau, especially if you can't afford to go somewhere else for an abortion."
She said no one is excited or happy about having an abortion, but "sometimes it's the best choice for everyone involved."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.