January 4, 2013

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

Portlander Abby Blinkhorn joined Portland businessman Mike Fink who organized a protest against the regular anti-abortion protesters (background) that meet in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic at 443 Congress st. in Portland Friday, January 4, 2013.

Protesters face off over abortion rights in Portland

By David Hench
Staff Writer

Eighty pro-choice protesters rallied against a group of anti-abortion demonstrators on a stretch of Congress Street on Friday morning as a nearby business owner tried to dislodge a group that has been picketing Planned Parenthood.

Mike Fink said he called for the protest because the weekly anti-abortion pickets that have been going on since summer disrupt his business. He said he also thinks they contribute to violence by extremists.

"It should be stopped, and this is the way to stop it," he said. "It's gone perfect today. I'm usually depressed on Fridays. I couldn't be happier today."

Jeff Hebert, an organizer of the anti-abortion protest, said his group attracted more supporters than usual in response to the counter-protest, swelling its ranks to about 45 people.

"We're not yelling or screaming really, we're just preaching the Gospel," he said. "The only hostility comes from the other side."

The anti-abortion protesters held large full-color signs that they say depict aborted fetuses, while other protesters sang hymns and loudly recited religious admonitions against abortion.

They were largely drowned out by the group in front of Fink's businesses -- Guitar Grave and Mike's Restaurant -- who repeatedly shouted slogans like "Abortion is health care and health care is a right."

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health services -- including abortions -- to people who might not be able to afford them otherwise.

Fink used social media to rally support and offered free sandwiches and coffee to the counter-protesters.

Katie Zema of Portland went for a sausage breakfast sandwich. She and 10 friends learned of the counter-protest and gathered to make signs Thursday night, she said.

"Access to health care and access to planning ahead is such an important thing," she said. "People who go to Planned Parenthood are taking care of themselves. We want to show everybody that uses their services, we have their back."

City officials are considering establishing a buffer zone around Planned Parenthood, at 443 Congress St. Fink said that would be good because the protesters would probably move to nearby Monument Square, which has historically been a place for protests.

Leslie Sneddon of Richmond, one of the anti-abortion protesters, said the group would respond to a 35-foot buffer by standing at the edge of that zone and carrying larger signs, though it would be harder to hand out literature to people entering Planned Parenthood.

"It's going to educate somebody who's going to drive by," she said. "They're going to see the signs and see people standing."

She said a buffer shouldn't single out anti-abortion protesters, so it would have to include protests of any business.

Several police officers were in the area Friday morning, keeping protesters on both sides from blocking the sidewalk, but reported no violent confrontations or legal violations.

Fink said he hope to organize protests on the first Friday of each month until the situation improves.

He said he is raising money for Planned Parenthood by selling T-shirts, and will continue as long as protesters picket near his businesses.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

Portland police officers keep a eye on a group that Portland businessman Mike Fink organized to protest against the regular anti-abortion protesters that meet in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic at 443 Congress St. in Portland Friday, January 4, 2013.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

Pro-choice protester Louis Sigel from Wayne and anti-abortion protester Leslie Sneddon from Richmond exchange words as Portland businessman Mike Fink organized a protest against the regular anti-abortion protesters that meet in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic at 443 Congress st. in Portland Friday, January 4, 2013.

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