Anti-abortion protesters rallied at scores of Planned Parenthood clinics on Saturday to urge Congress and President Donald Trump to strip the health services provider of federal funding, while supporters of the organisation staged counter-demonstrations around the United States.
With anti-abortion groups expecting protests at up to 225 clinics, Planned Parenthood supporters organised 150 protests of their own at parks, government buildings and other sites, including clinics. At some of those clinics, the counter-demonstrators outnumbered those demanding an end to federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
All told, rallies and marches were called in 45 states in cities large and small, from Washington and Philadelphia to St. Paul, Minnesota, and Orange, California
As many as 6,000 people turned up for competing demonstrations in St. Paul, Minnesota, police said, but at other places, only a few dozen demonstrators turned out.
"We expected that tens of thousands of pro-lifers will be out today sending a message that we want Planned Parenthood to be defunded," Monica Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and one of the national organisers of the anti-abortion rallies, said in a telephone interview.
"As long as they are going stay in the abortion business, that is an organisation that shouldn’t be getting one red cent of federal tax money," Miller said.
The 100-year-old organisation of about 650 health centres provides birth control and other women's health services in addition to abortion, according to its website.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalised abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling but U.S. law prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions. Anti-abortion activists say funding for other purposes acts to subsidise abortions.
In some cities, the two sides in the long-simmering issue positioned themselves along the same street. Initial reports indicate the rallies were vocal and peaceful.
In the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, anti-abortion and abortion-rights groups took opposite sides of a four-lane highway, waving signs at traffic and shouting slogans.
"Trump is going to hear our trumpet call," said anti-abortion activist Sandy Prescott, 61, a homemaker from Roswell, Georgia, who was part of a group of about 100 people demanding an end to federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
At the competing abortion-rights demonstration, about 50 people gathered and held signs that included: "Women's rights are human rights." Many wore the pink "pussy hats" that have became an anti-Trump symbol since the Republican's inauguration on Jan. 20.