PORTLAND – A cash mob to support Planned Parenthood on Friday morning could clash with opponents of abortion, who protest at the clinic on days when it offers abortions, although both sides promise a peaceful event.

Nearly 90 people are expected to join the cash mob — in which people flock to a business to support it through purchases or donations — for the clinic on Congress Street near Monument Square.

The event, organized by the city’s director of human resources, was planned after protests outside the clinic began drawing more people about six weeks ago, including a protest this month for which police were called.

The protests have grown in intensity since then, said Megan Hannan, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. They have been the only vocal protests staged outside the clinic since it moved to Congress Street from Forest Avenue a year ago, she said.

Leslie Sneddon, a frequent protester, said the anti-abortion demonstrations in Portland are part of a larger effort in Maine to protest at as many abortion clinics as possible. She occasionally protested outside Planned Parenthood on Forest Avenue and at an abortion provider in Augusta.

Friday’s cash mob has been organized by Mike Miles, human resources director for the city of Portland.

“I was walking down the street a few weeks ago and I saw the protesters with their pictures of fetuses lining the sidewalk and talking to people going through. It just seemed to me to be kind of ugly,” he said.

“I decided that what Planned Parenthood is doing is valuable,” he said. “There is a very public display of dissatisfaction and I wanted to make the opposite statement, that there is a lot of public support for what they are doing.”

Miles said the event is not connected to his position with the city and he did all of the planning outside of work hours. City Manager Mark Rees said he has no concerns about Miles’ involvement with the cash mob. “As long as it’s not related to their job, we don’t dictate what employees do outside their job,” he said.

Planned Parenthood receives no funding from the city, Rees said. While it provides abortions, more than 90 percent of its services involve cancer screenings, birth control, counseling and prevention, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the organization.

Nationally, Planned Parenthood has come under fire from opponents of abortion, who have lobbied state legislatures to pull funding from the clinics, including in Maine. Abortion clinics, doctors and staff members in several states have been targets of violence and threats.

Sneddon, New England director for the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, said the protests in Portland are not organized by a specific group.

Each week, as many as 15 to 20 protesters show up with large signs covered with photos of aborted fetuses, to “show the truth that abortion is an act of violence” and offer alternatives to women seeking abortions, she said.

“When we reach out to women, we do so with gentleness and kindness, but we’re firm in our resolve to offer women something else besides the hurt that will happen inside an abortion mill,” Sneddon said.

Hannan, however, said protesters “harass” patients, people who work in the building and passers-by who are not affiliated with the organization. The protesters have been increasingly aggressive in approaching patients and volunteer greeters, she said.

“We fully support the protesters’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly, but when they block people from walking on the sidewalk, when they follow them down the block or into the building, when they shout and call people names, that’s harassment, and that’s where we have to draw the line,” Hannan said.

Sneddon disputes Hannan’s assertion.

After a protest on Oct. 5 escalated and police were called, Planned Parenthood officials decided to hire an off-duty police officer to ensure that protests remain peaceful, Hannan said.

Portland police don’t plan additional coverage of Friday’s event unless the need arises, said Lt. Scott Pelletier.

Sneddon said she and another protester were assaulted outside the clinic during that protest. A video from that day, posted on the CBR Maine Facebook page, shows a woman yelling obscenities at two protesters holding signs. The assault was reported to police, she said.

Pelletier said police received a report of an assault outside the clinic on Oct. 5. He could provide no details because the incident is under investigation, he said. It is the only time recently when police have been called to a protest at the clinic, he said.

Chris Hall, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Portland Regional Chamber, which is on the first floor below Planned Parenthood, said the protest Oct. 5 was “disruptive,” but last week’s protest was “calm and peaceful.”

“We hope that’s how things remain,” he said. “This is part of the debate in free society. It’s not always quiet and tidy.”

The cash mob will gather outside the clinic at 8:15 a.m. to donate money to Planned Parenthood. Miles and Sneddon said they don’t anticipate a confrontation between the two groups.

On a Facebook page that Miles created for the event, the cash mob is billed as a positive effort that will show Planned Parenthood the community “overwhelmingly supports its good work.”

“We don’t want to hassle the protesters. We respect their right to hold their views. We have different views,” Miles wrote on the page. “We just want the protesters, Planned Parenthood and the community to know that Planned Parenthood is an essential part of our community.”

Sneddon, who is out of state campaigning for the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, said protesters will not interfere with the cash mob because they, too, respect their opponents’ right to free speech.

“Everybody has a right to further their causes,” she said.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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