Hundreds of people gathered outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood today for an annual Good Friday demonstration by opponents of legalized abortion. It was one of the biggest crowds outside the clinic in years.
Marchers lined up for blocks along Ford Parkway, drawn in part by a brief appearance by Archbishop John Nienstedt.
Abortion opponent Megan Noll, of South St. Paul, said she was pleased to see the head of the St. Paul-based archdiocese join the demonstration. It was the first appearance by an archbishop at the event in recent memory.
"I think it makes a huge difference, I think this is probably the biggest crowd I have ever seen here," Noll said. "It's just good to have a good leader who's willing to support life and to see the people rise to the occasion and support him in that."
One of the organizers of the annual demonstration also credited the election of Democrat Barack Obama for part of the enthusiasm outside the Highland Park clinic today. Obama said earlier this month that, although he wants to reduce the occurrence of abortion, he supports legalized abortion.
Brian Gibson is the executive director of Pro Life Action Ministries in St. Paul.
"When there's been a change of power, and an administration like we have now, which is very pro abortion, pro life people want to come out and show support, so I think that's part of it, too," Gibson said.
But Planned Parenthood officials said they think opposition to legalized abortion is waning. During the height of today's demonstration, the number of Planned Parenthood supporters in front of the St. Paul clinic rivaled the size of past Good Friday protests by abortion rights opponents.
Some Planned Parenthood supporters said they were there partly in response to an incident in January, when an abortion proponent rammed his SUV into the clinic's front door. It is the only Planned Parenthood clinic in Minnesota that provides abortions, and the organization has since installed barriers on its entryway to stop other vehicles.
Sarah Stoesz is CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and said she was grateful for the show of support outside the clinic.
"I don't believe that there's a rising tide of cultural conservatism in the country," Stoesz said. "I think that tide is retreating now, and I think what you see in the large number of people that have come out to support planned parenthood and women's reproductive health is exactly that. A lot of support for what we do."
St. Paul police said today's demonstration and counter demonstration were peaceful.