Updated 8:23 a.m.
State Rep. Brain Sims’ viral rebuke of anti-abortion activists at a Philly Planned Parenthood last week may have had an unintended effect: attracting an even larger anti-abortion demonstration to the same medical center.
Conservative organizers are planning a rally outside the Center City facility on Friday to “peacefully protest the violence & bullying of the abortion industry & its allies,” activist Lila Rose wrote Tuesday on Twitter. Rose is the founder of Live Action, a national anti-abortion nonprofit known for its “sting” operations inside Planned Parenthood facilities.
The forthcoming action could potentially be far more intrusive than the one Sims’ initially blasted to his thousands of social media followers. Leaders at the Philadelphia medical center said they “do not condone” the lawmaker’s approach.
One Facebook page for the Friday event has over 150 RSVPs and more than 800 interested. Even more responses have been flooding in on Twitter. The now-deleted tweet of Sims’ video was ratio’d to the tune of 20,000 replies, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has also weighed in.
Sims, the first openly gay legislator elected to the Pa. House of Representatives and a national LGTBQ figure, toned down his tactics on Tuesday in the wake of wide backlash.
His initial video, posted to his Facebook page on April 18, shows the lawmaker approaching a woman and three girls outside the Planned Parenthood facility at 12th and Locust streets. He begins to scold them for praying outside the clinic, referring to them as “”pseudo-Christian protesters who’ve been out here shaming young girls for being here.” The Democrat also offered “$100 to anyone who will identify” the three girls, claiming he was raising money for Planned Parenthood.
“Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims’ harassment of a woman and his intent to DOX pro-life TEENS is unacceptable,” Friday’s protest organizers wrote on the Facebook event page.
Sims initially doubled down on his effort, arguing that anti-abortion protesters routinely shame people seeking routine medical treatment at the facility, which is in his district. In recent years, pro-life demonstrations have drawn hundreds of protesters to Planned Parenthood centers in the Philly region.
This isn’t the first time Sims has stirred national outcry.
Last June, he posted a picture of himself flipping the bird as a welcome message for Vice President Mike Pence, who was visiting Philly at the time. But the reaction to Sims’ recent video has been far more intense than to his previous performances — and the lawmaker has already walked back his actions.
Sen. Ted Cruz chimed in from Texas to ask whether Democratic leaders would denounce Sims’ actions. The Pennsylvania GOP has since called on federal, state and local prosecutors to examine if Sims’ behavior violated any harassment statutes.
Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania CEO Dayle Steinberg said the organization has a strict non-engagement practice when it comes to protesters outside the clinic.
“While we do not condone Representative Sims’ approach, our patients deserve to have access to health care without shame and stigma,” Steinberg wrote in an email to Billy Penn. “Nobody should have to face shaming, judgment, harassment, or intimidation in order to get or provide health care.”
Steinberg added that the organization still considers Sims a “champion” for their cause. Republican lawmakers have resuscitated a flurry of abortion access bills in Harrisburg, which Sims and other Democrats have continued to oppose.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sims posted a video on his widely followed social media accounts that promised improved behavior.
“I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded,” he tweeted. “I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.”
Friday’s “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” is set begin at 11 a.m. at 12th and Locust, per the Facebook event page.
Editor’s note: The term “pro-life” has been corrected to “anti-abortion activists” to be more accurate and to conform with AP Style recommendations.