Singing “We Shall Overcome,” hundreds of people marched through the streets of downtown Springfield Friday afternoon led by an heir to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. — not for race relations, but to protest what the walkers said they see as the U.S.’s foremost civil rights infringement: abortion.
Alveda King, a niece of the slain civil rights leader and an anti-abortion activist, spent her second day in Springfield with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. They asked about 400 people in attendance to help efforts to curtail abortions in the United States.
“Will you be able to say that you defended life?” King asked during a prayer service Paprocki held at the cathedral. “Let our dream that every man, every woman, every girl … that we do all we can.”
Paprocki’s ecumenical service promoted a peaceful march to Planned Parenthood’s health clinic at 1000 E. Washington St. Marchers included groups from area parochial schools.
Charlie Brown, 17, one of four Sacred Heart-Griffin students asked to participate in the service, read a quote from Martin Luther King asking for those in attendance to be concerned with “the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life.”
Brown, who is black, said the significance of the day’s event for him was the promotion of anti-abortion efforts, not Alveda King’s appearance.
King, who lives in Atlanta, Ga., spoke about her uncle’s, father’s and grandfather’s work as pastors and said she knew they would support her years of work to end abortion.
On Thursday, Planned Parenthood released a statement saying King is using her uncle’s name to “further her position in the anti-abortion movement to the detriment of the health and well-being of women.”
The walkers headed out on foot about 2 p.m., going east on Lawrence Avenue and Cook Street, north on 11th Street and then west on Washington Street. The group, some holding signs, settled in front of the clinic with a black pickup truck as home base.
Paprocki and King addressed the crowd again, asking Planned Parenthood to “bear witness to the truth” and offer women who seek their services the option of seeing an ultrasound.
“You say you want to give (patients) a clear choice — let them see their babies,” Paprocki said.
Pam Sutherland, vice president for public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, responded that the organization does just that.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, center, and Alveda King march with hundreds of others down 11th Street on their way to Planned Parenthood. Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register
“It just shows how clueless the bishop is and Alveda King is about medical services that we provide,” she said. “Any patient who is considering abortion gets an ultrasound, and we ask if they would like to see it.
“I ask (Paprocki) to work with us to help reduce the need for abortion by making sure women have access to comprehensive birth control,” she said.
Sutherland said she also was concerned that Springfield police hadn’t notified clinic officials in advance of the rally, which blocked traffic to the Planned Parenthood building.
“Ninety percent of our services are general health-care services, so I find it interesting that (protesters) would want to protest and block access to our patients,” Sutherland said. “They blocked women from getting good health care services today.”
Police deputy chief of criminal investigations Cliff Buscher said police are not obligated to notify businesses of protest marches, but to provide traffic control.