1425 Creech Road, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Crowd thinning as protesters head home
The crowd has dwindled steadily in the past few hours.
Several officers have rotated off and some protesters say they may not stay until 5 p.m., when Planned Parenthood closes.
The mood has remained quiet and respectful. Protesters hold their signs, talk to one another and turn toward anyone entering or exiting the property. Some occasionally sing or repeat prayers. A few offer pamphlets to the women entering and exiting the building.
Eric Scheidler, with the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, said organizers chose not to be more confrontational. Graphic signs -- those with images of aborted fetuses -- were decidedly kept out of the day's events.
"For this day, the emphasis really needed to be reaching out to the abortion-bound mothers and the community," he said.
Protests in white, affluent communities tend to be the most volatile, he noted.
Officers have said the lack of counter-protesters has helped keep the peace.
Planned Parenthood asked its supporters to stay away from the site.
"It's like a stadium full of fans for one team," said Collier County Lt. Harold Minich.
Two young women have exited the clinic in the past hour, each shielded by Planned Parenthood staffers.
With each exit, one staffer holds a large, brown umbrella before the woman as others lead the return to the parking lot.
One woman wore a hoodie and sunglasses. Another could be seen sobbing as she exited.
The crowd of protesters goes quiet at these moments, save for the few who encourage the women to take pamphlets.
"We want to help you," one yelled out. "We have all sorts of free resources for you. Please come to us."
When one young man shyly approached, several protesters eagerly fished in their basket for the appropriate pamphlet.
"Please read it and share it..." they encouraged him.
As the man and the young woman drive out of the parking lot and to the exit, a protester approaches with a sign. A Planned Parenthood staffer carefully guides the protester out of the car's path, and the car leaves the property.
POSTED 2:45 p.m.
Keeping the peace has remained a simple task for officers on hand.
The crowd is smaller than anticipated, and few protesters, if any, have attempted to cause trouble.
"We've seen zero police action the whole time," said Collier County Sheriff's Office Lt. Harold Minich. "I don't expect anything to change the rest of the day."
At most, officers have reminded protesters to keep off Planned Parenthood property and kept traffic moving, said Collier County Sgt. R.C. Brown III. But no one has shown interest in confrontation, he added.
Planned Parenthood is paying four deputies to stand on the property, by the entrance. Two other deputies were assigned to be in the area, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kristi Lester.
A Sheriff's Office surveillance tower is parked nearby, as well.
A spokesman for the Naples Police was unsure how many officers were at the scene. All are south of Creech Road, the boundary between county and city jurisdiction. Planned Parenthood is on the northern side of the road, in Sheriff's Office jurisdiction.
"We're just there making sure traffic flows smoothly," said Mike Herman, the spokesman. "That's it."
Traffic problems have been minimal, officers agreed. Some drivers slow down to get a better look at the protests, but they are quickly urged to move along.
Heat exposure can also pose a problem at demonstrations, Brown said.
Some in the crowd have pulled out umbrellas, and others have found shade.
Officers say they will remain for the forseeable future.
"We'll be here as long as the crowd is," Brown said.
POSTED 2 p.m.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the anti-abortion community held a press conference with Scheidler, with the pro-action league out of Chicago, various citizens and local clergy.
Scheidler said 300,000 abortions are performed every year, with one out of every four performed by a Planned Parenthood.
"Planned Parenthood is Abortion Inc.," he said. "It's a dark day for Naples but at the same time it is an opportunity to share the mission of the pro-life community. We call for people around the country to take action, take those pro-life convictions and put them to action."
Mike Ryan, of the Collier Pregnancy Center, spoke of how women have resources to help.
"We have a life affirming center," he said. "We provide support to women faced with an unplanned pregnancy."
He said the center provides free ultrasounds and frequently, a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy will see the ultrasound and change her mind about having an abortion.
"We are an organization with happy endings," he said.
Father Bob Kantor, with St. Agnes Catholic Church, spoke of how abortion leaves lasting scars.
"Through our prayers and efforts, encourage women to choose a way for life that won't haunt them the rest of their lives," Kantor said.
POSTED at 12:45 p.m.
The noon crowd was expected to get bigger than the 50 or so die-hard protesters who have spent most of the morning outside Planned Parenthood but that didn't happen, and the heat started wearing on people.
Matt Coppens, 27, stood by himself as a supporter of Planned Parenthood with a sign that said, "Pro-Constitution and pro-choice."
He decided Sunday night he needed to come express his views.
"Do I stand up for the voices that aren't here or do I let people think Naples is only pro-life," he said, adding that women need to know they have backing. "She needs to know other people are here to support her."
POSTED at NOON
Shortly after 10 a.m., another patient arrived and was escorted in under an umbrella and with a towel covering her head.
Planned Parenthood supporters were asked to stay away and not be a counter presence to the protesters, but a threesome on bicycles stayed across the street watching.
"We're just checking it out," said Cassi Dennis, 24, a senior at Florida Gulf Coast University. "They have a right to their opinion. I disagree with them."
Dennis said she it was great that Planned Parenthood is starting to offer abortions."There's been a need for it for a long time."
Michael Waskom, 28, who was with Dennis, said he has seen more protesters on other days outside of Planned Parenthood.
"Really support someone's right to stand up for what they believe in, that's why I'm here," he said. "I support the right to have an abortion. I support their right to stand here. The Constitution gives us the free right to the sidewalks."
Father Michael Orsi, chaplain of the Ave Maria Law School, said the protest would last all day and he expected law school students to come out during the aftern0on.
"I think it has a negative impact on the community," he said of the availability of abortion services in Naples. He said Planned Parenthood starting abortions is a "study for death."
"We have to continue to pray, prayer is key to changing people's heart and that is what the pro-life movement is about, to change people's heart," Orsi said. "Once we change people's heart, we can move people's mind to a pro-life stand."
POSTED at 9:45 a.m.
In her this morning Char Wendel, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Collier, said three patients had arrived by 9:15 a.m.
"We hope to be done by 5 p.m.," she said.
"We have a relatively full schedule."
Wendel would not say how many appointments they had, but said nobody decided not to come because it was the first day.
"Everybody was told to drive directly into the parking lot and that they would be escorted in," Wendel said.
With the presence of a national pro life league representative here, she's not clear how many more abortion opponents would come out this afternoon.
Wendel said she has no regrets about starting up abortion services here.
"I think we are committed to providing the service. We have been a long time coming," she said. "All the staff are feeling proud today to bring the service. We're here for ptients."
POSTED at 9 a.m.
For Ave Maria senior Lina Williams, the prayer vigil began at 7 a.m. today.
She said the impact of abortions coming to Naples is huge, because this community had been pro life.
The Colorado native came to Southwest Florida to attend Ave Maria, and found it a very welcoming place.
"Abortion is not all there is," she said. "Women have other resources out there."
She shared her family's own potentially tragic story of her older sister's birth.
"My mother was raped when she was 18," Williams said.
Her mother hid the pregnancy in fear of her own parents reaction.
"She gave birth in a bathroom, in a restaurant and put my sister up for adoption," Williams said.
Many years later the family reunited with her now 39-year-old sister, Williams said.
"I can't image life without her," she said.
POSTED at 8:35 a.m.
A woman is escorted inside the building by trained Planned Parenthood volunteers, who made sure to obscure the view of her face with an umbrella.
There was no attempt by the protesters to stop her.
With limited parking, abortion opponents have made arrangements for people to park on the west side of 10th Street N., where there is a large public easement, said Patricia Bucalo, a pro life advocate in Naples.
They also have permission to park in a commercial parking lot, the location of which she refused to disclose.
Also at Coastland Mall people will be parking.
"We are inviting them to park down there at their own risk, and hoping there won't be a problem," said Bucalo.
She said they have a couple of shuttles running between the mall and Creech Road.
The demonstration today aims to let the women coming here know they have support, said Bucalo.
Those options include Collier Pregnancy Center, Pregnancy Resource Center, Immokalee Pregnancy Center, Project Gabriel and Sunlight Home.
The second reason for being here is to make it clear to Planned Parenthood that bringing surgical abortion to Naples after 16 years is unacceptable, Bucalo said.
"There is a large pro life community in Naples and it has rallied now to be outspoken to the tragedy that abortion is," said Bucalo.
As employees arrive for work, one protester, who declined to give her name calls out to them.
"Good morning! We have free information where you can make an informed choice," she said. This is a place that kills unborn children."
She also tells them there is help to find different employment.
Ariena Koonce, a sixth grader at First Baptist Academy, carried a sign that read, "We love you and your baby!"
She said she is sad that abortions are going to be offered.
"They are going to kill little babies," said Ariena, 11.
Her stepbrother Matthew Price, 15, carried a sign that said "Love life."
He came out to support alternatives to abortion.
"Abortion is wrong," said Matthew, a sophomore at Barron Collier Senior High.
POSTED at 8 a.m.
Joe Hennessy, president of the Naples Pro Life Council, said he was pleased to see the large contingent of law enforcement officers, adding that there has never been an unruly protest against Planned Parenthood in Naples.
"For 19 or 20 years we have been doing this. It is the most ho-hum thing and never a hint of violence," said Hennessy. "I guess safety is the most important thing."
Hennessy said he did not know how many supporters would be here, they used sign-up sheets for people to come at different hours.
"The interest seems to be hitting different people, it's pretty high.
"We had names we never heard of (before)," he said.
POSTED at 7:40 a.m.
National pro life advocate Eric Scheidler said he expects hundreds of pro life advocates throughout the day. Ave Maria students held an all-night vigil from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
"We're here to help these women choose life," said Scheidler. "There's a lot of pressure, a lot of fear that lead women to this abortuiary."
He did not know when the last Planned Parenthood in Florida started abortions, but said Sarasota opened not to long ago.
Planned Parenthood has been opening these new larger facilities to "almost become the Walmart of abortions," said Scheidler.
Although abortion is legal in the United States, he said, it is not something that is acceptable to many Americans, calling it a moral quandary.
The proposed Personhood amendment to the Florida constitution, aims to protect the fetus.
"We would like to see the law extended to the American womb," said Scheidler.
Along 14th Street N., private homeowners have put up yellow tape to keep people from parking on their property.
Naples police have cruisers parked at Wardon and Creech, as well bicycle and motorcycle patrolmen.
As of 7:35 a.m., several Ave Maria students have rejoined the prayer vigil on the right of way and the number of protesters has grown to 25.
POSTED at 7 a.m.
As the sun's rays broke through the darkness, people began lining up next to the Planned Parenthood building off Creech Road in Naples. This is the first day the clinic will be offering abortions in 16 years.
Twelve people were set up outside the building, six of which are holding a candlelight prayer. Students from Ave Maria University held an all-night vigil. More than six sheriff's deputies are on hand, as well as several Naples Police officers.
Hundreds are expected to protest today but they are not a welcomed sight to some.
"I think the people that demonstrate outside of our building are terrorists because they're trying to deny women access to what a woman is choosing for herself," Char Wendel, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood of Collier County told NBC-2 last week.
Planned Parenthood announced Aug. 21 that it will start offering first-trimester abortions today after a year of planning and a 16-year absence of the procedure being available in Collier.
Dr. Wallace McLean stopped performing abortions in 1996 at his private practice when abortion opponents started demonstrating outside his home, in addition to protesting outside his practice.
Since then, local women seeking abortions had to travel to clinics or doctors’ practices in Miami or Fort Myers. An estimated 1,600 women annually in Collier have an abortion somewhere, said Char Wendel, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood in Collier.
Wendel declined to say how many women are scheduled for an abortion today, the only service that will be available on Mondays. Appointments are required. In October, Planned Parenthood will start offering the abortion pill.
“We are seeing the need is there,” Wendel said.