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Dueling abortion rallies keep their distance in Santa Monica

Woman holds sign during protest
A Santa Monica police officer is nearby as River Huston stands outside the Planned Parenthood office in Santa Monica.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Helen Sklar, 69, first demonstrated for abortion access in the 1970s. On Saturday, she found herself agitating for the same right again.

“It feels like a huge step backwards,” Sklar said. “Taking to the streets is the strategy that really has to be first and foremost.”

Sklar was part of an abortion rights rally, organized by Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, which marched from Santa Monica City Hall to a nearby Planned Parenthood office in an attempt to overwhelm far-right groups that were planning to protest near the medical clinic too. By midafternoon, the antiabortion demonstrators were a no-show at the health clinic. Instead they rallied at Santa Monica’s Palisades Park, about a quarter of a mile away.

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The dueling rallies arrived nearly a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

The far-right group AmericanMade Patriots had held a rally at Palisades Park earlier this month, and on July 9 more far-right groups also protested outside the Santa Monica Planned Parenthood office, forcing the clinic to close early.

Natalie Lanza rallies in support of  abortion rights at  Planned Parenthood-Santa Monica Health Center.
Natalie Lanza rallies in support of abortion rights at Planned Parenthood-Santa Monica Health Center.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

By 10 a.m. Saturday, about 100 abortion rights activists had gathered outside City Hall. A light marine layer hung over the crowd. Organizers and protesters with Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights wore green shirts and bandannas in solidarity with the national movement for abortion rights.

Organizer Olivia Dunston, 29, said the group was there to “help protect the Planned Parenthood and everybody with uteruses.”

“I am nonviolent, so I’m not really looking for any type of violence,” Dunston said.

Saturday’s demonstration follows a protest last week outside the Santa Monica Planned Parenthood clinic, in which participants affiliated with the Proud Boys took part.

July 16, 2022

Activists held signs that read, “Blood on Your Hands,” with portraits of five conservative members of the Supreme Court; “We Are Not Incubators” and “I’m Not Part of Your Book Club” with a drawing of the Bible.

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The group said it wanted to sidestep tactics used by the Proud Boys, a right-wing neo-fascist group that participated in the July 9 rally and also was expected to turn out at Saturday’s antiabortion demonstration.

An activist named Megan, who did not disclose her full name, said she was concerned about the threat of violence from antiabortion protesters.

“But this is more important,” she said. “The cause is more important.”

The abortion rights demonstrators arrived at the Third Street Promenade just before 11:30 a.m. They were joined by another group of abortion rights demonstrators, bringing their numbers to about 400 to 500 people. The air was energized with chants pushing for abortion access.

A small group of antiabortion protesters gathered at the Promenade too, including people wearing leather biker vests that read “Ride for Donald J. Trump” and a man with a loudspeaker and a large sign that read, “Repent or Perish.” They declined to speak with The Times.

A man holds a sign with Bible verses amid an abortion-rights rally
A man holds a sign with Bible verses amid an abortion-rights rally at Planned Parenthood-Santa Monica Health Center on Saturday.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Shoppers and diners politely stepped around the demonstrators. Merchants sold frozen yogurt and sportswear just a few feet away on the pedestrian-only street.

Nearby, about 45 antiabortion protesters rallied at Palisades Park just after 1:30 p.m. The group was made up of organizers from Patriot Pride, a man who identified himself as John Smith and said he “wanted to fight for children,” and others.

The antiabortion rally kicked off with an a cappella rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” A few vehicles with pro-Trump signs and American flags drove by the park. A handful of abortion rights protesters made their way to the park and argued with their adversaries; but no violence ensued.

Trans nonbinary activist Sunflower, 23, who uses the pronoun they, was part of a separate abortion rights protest at the nondescript entrance to the Planned Parenthood office.

Activists from their organization, some dressed in bulky clothes with black balaclavas and sunglasses, were stationed outside the clinic just a few hundred feet from the Rise Up demonstration. Members of the anonymous abortion rights group complained that their event had been co-opted by the Rise Up rally.

The anonymous group played music from Insane Clown Posse as the Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights participants started a raucous chant: “Control over women is what they want. Furious women is what they got.”

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Sunflower and other protesters were outside the clinic last week when far-right, fascist and other antiabortion protesters forced it to close its doors, they said. Sunflower notified the clinic and law enforcement ahead of Saturday’s protest. This time, the Planned Parenthood entrance was unobstructed, and the clinic remained opened for the day. A Planned Parenthood representative was not immediately available to speak with The Times.

“I am aware that there is a good possibility of violence, especially from the fascists,” Sunflower said. “So our strategy is just defense. Make sure everybody’s safe, make sure any patients can get into the clinic discreetly and safely.”

Also outside the clinic was Ingrid, 50, who wanted to protest the repeal of Roe vs. Wade.

“I haven’t seen any violence,” Ingrid said. “I think it’s been a peaceful protest where we got our points across.”

Xodiac, of Queer XACT, dances at an abortion-rights rally at Planned Parenthood-Santa Monica Health Center on Saturday.
Xodiac, of Queer XACT, dances at the abortion-rights rally at Planned Parenthood-Santa Monica Health Center.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade has sparked hundreds of protests across the country since a draft opinion was leaked in May.

Although the demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful, 11 have turned violent, all of which involved participants affiliated with the Proud Boys, according to Roudabeh Kishi, director of research and innovation at Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a nonprofit that tracks political violence and demonstrations.

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Since the Supreme Court decision, at least nine states have banned abortion, with more expected to follow suit in the coming weeks. The House recently voted to restore abortion rights nationwide, but the bill has little chance of becoming law because it lacks the necessary support in the Senate.

Abortion remains legal in California, which has sought to solidify its status as a reproductive safe haven. The state Legislature in June approved a ballot measure that will enable voters to decide in November whether the state Constitution should be amended to explicitly protect a person’s right to an abortion.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued an executive order that said California will not share medical records with antiabortion states or extradite doctors who provide care to patients seeking the procedure here.

Times staff writer Heidi Perez-Moreno contributed to this report.

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