Madison Reynolds, president of SIUE Students for Life, was nervous when she stepped up to the podium at a rally outside the new Metro East Planned Parenthood clinic last week, but she spoke anyway.
Reynolds, a junior nursing major from St. Louis, joined with other anti-abortion groups and at least 250 individuals to protest the new clinic in Fairview Heights, Illinois, on Oct. 9. Planned Parenthood constructed the clinic without announcing what it was.
Reynolds had never spoken to a group this large before, she said. But she said she wanted to send the message that there can be support for women facing unplanned pregnancies, including students at SIUE.
It’s a personal message for Reynolds, who said her own mother raised all four children while still attending college. She sees the mission of SIUE Students for Life to support women who may be struggling with an unexpected pregnancy while attending school.
“Women don’t need to be told that they can’t,” she said in her speech. “Instead, women need to be showered in support and love and told that they can.”
Reynolds said Students for Life has a “Pregnant on Campus” initiative to help pregnant students with emotional support, financial and housing resources and other assistance.
Supporting Reynolds at the rally was Austin Tuttle, a recent graduate of SIUE who used to work with SIUE Students for Life.
“It’s really important to show that there’s not just one option — women and families that are in really difficult situations don’t just have one choice,” he said. “There’s a better way, and that’s to choose life.”
The protest included speakers and demonstrators from both sides of the river, including Illinois state Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro).
Several priests were in attendance, and signs included statements like “I am the pro-life generation,” “defund Planned Parenthood” or “pray to end abortion,” along with one sign featuring graphic images of a dismembered fetus. Many of the signs called upon the Fairview Heights city council or mayor to shut the clinic down before it opens, and some speakers accused Planned Parenthood of advocating abortion for financial gain.
Missouri state Sen. Bob Onder, who is a medical doctor, stated that “abortion is not healthcare” and called for more strict laws against abortion services.
“Pregnancy is not a disease and a baby is not some tumor that needs to be removed from a woman’s body,” Onder said in his speech.
There were no apparent counter-protesters at the rally, which took place on a steep hill outside the clinic’s security fence on Wednesday evening.
Police officers had set up temporary barricades to keep the rally from spilling into the roadway, which is a frontage road along Interstate 64, and were present during the rally, but there were no incidents of violence or altercations.
Reynolds and Tuttle said they knew their beliefs might not be popular on campus.
“We want people to hear what we believe and have a conversation about this difficult topic,” Tuttle said. “Lots of people have strong feelings, maybe some very much in favor and some very much against. But what SIUE Students for Life is all about is showing love for other people, and trying to end this practice of ending the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Reynolds said she knows people have passionate feelings about the issue.
“I want to invite them to just have a dialogue with us,” Reynolds said. “Let’s just have a conversation about it, understand why we believe the things we do and where we’re coming from.”