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Don’t defund!

Outraged supporters of the healthcare organization are descending on Republican town halls

Outraged Planned Parenthood supporters are descending on Republican town halls

The young woman was on the verge of tears as she stood up at a town hall in Tennessee on Tuesday.

“Planned Parenthood saved my life,” she told Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, explaining how she’d received a life-saving pap smear at no cost and continues to rely on the group for regular breast exams, vaccines, and other care.

“What do you have to say to the 2.5 million people who go to Planned Parenthood every year and depend on them for their life-saving care?” she asked Blackburn.

The congresswoman thanked the woman before answering as she has many times before: “I stand firmly in my belief that taxpayer funds should not be used for abortions—”  The crowd cut her off with boos and yells of “They are not!”

Scenes like this are taking place at town halls around the country where angry constituents and protesters are pressing their elected representatives about a litany of issues — the future of Planned Parenthood and women’s healthcare chief among them, as the Trump administration vows to defund the nonprofit, which provides healthcare, education, counseling and other services to about 5 million Americans a year at its 650 centers.

Republicans, including Blackburn, have long opposed providing federal funds to the organization because it also provides abortions (even though there’s already a law that bars taxpayer dollars from going to pay for abortions). About 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from the government and goes to non-abortion-related services.

Outside of Blackburn’s town hall, an estimated 100 people gathered because they couldn’t fit inside, with protesters carrying signs that read “Pretend that Russia is Planned Parenthood and investigate,” according to Politico. Even more protesters lined up along the road, some waving “I stand with Planned Parenthood” signs.

At a Virginia town hall on Tuesday evening, Rep. Scott Taylor told an audience member to “calm down” when she asked what would happen to her health coverage if Planned Parenthood were defunded. He was quickly drowned out by angry booing. Earlier on Tuesday, Virginia’s Democratic governor vetoed a bill that would have cut the state’s funding to Planned Parenthood.

At Rep. Buddy Carter’s town hall in Savannah, Georgia, on Tuesday afternoon, people wearing pink Planned Parenthood shirts filled the room. Outside, even more demonstrators gathered holding pink signs that read “I stand with Planned Parenthood.”

Among several groups organizing attendance, and sometimes protests, at Republican town halls around the country over the past week, Planned Parenthood is informing people where and when to attend the public meetings in order to express their support for the organization and ask their representatives not to defund it.

One of the first of these events was the widely reported — and very heated — town hall two weeks ago with Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz that drew about 1,000 people. A particularly emotional moment came when a woman got up and identified herself as a cancer survivor who relied on Planned Parenthood for vital care.

“Sir, can you please explain to me why you are trying to take that vital provider away from women like me?” she asked, drawing cheers.

Few of the Republican politicians who have been confronted about the issue seem to have been swayed from their talking points. Chaffetz, like Rep. Taylor, said there were other community health center options available if Planned Parenthood closed, but he declined to delve further into the issue.

On Saturday, Planned Parenthood is holding a massive rally in Milwaukee (House Speaker Paul Ryan’s home turf) to protest Ryan’s push to defund the organization and repeal Obamacare.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker

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