It’s been a rough week for Brian Sims.
The Pennsylvania Democrat has been pelted with criticism and demands for his resignation from his state House seat in the days since he posted a video of himself aggressively confronting an anti-abortion protester outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. “An old white lady telling people what to do with their bodies? Shame on you!” Sims shouts at the woman in a clip he live-streamed on Periscope. “Push back against Planned Parenthood protesters, PLEASE!” Sims wrote in a message accompanying the video.
But beyond criticisms of Sims’s tone, his tactics run counter to the desires of providers: Many health-care centers offering abortion services don’t actually want their supporters pushing back against protesters, a practice they see as counterproductive to patient safety. At the same time, Sims’s confrontations highlight an ongoing debate among abortion-rights activists about the most effective ways to influence the national conversation on abortion—a debate that’s likely to grow more complicated in the coming years.
“From a distance, protests and counterprotests look the same to a patient who’s just coming in to get health care,” says Erica Sackin, the senior director of communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Planned Parenthood, the No. 1 provider of abortion services in America, is a top target for anti-abortion protesters, yet it has a “nonengagement” policy. “Though well intentioned, counterprotests can inadvertently deter patients from getting the care they need,” Sackin says.