HYANNIS — Activists staged competing protests over abortion Wednesday outside a women’s health clinic here — a stark reminder of rising tension over the issue on Cape Cod.
By 9 a.m., seven men and women from the Cape Cod Pro-Life Alliance and the international organization 40 Days For Life took up positions on the sidewalk outside Health Imperatives. The clinic began offering medication abortions over the summer and is the first abortion provider physically on the Cape in 15 years.
At noon, the mood shifted when 50 people descended onto the same sidewalk supporting abortion rights. An invisible line kept the two groups apart.
“What a shame,” said one woman on the antiabortion side who declined to give her name. “I’m going to pray for them.”
Meanwhile, 10 clergy members from across the Cape unfurled a large banner reading “clergy for choice” as men and women spread out holding signs that read “support women’s health” and “support choice.”
The stage for the two protests was set last month when Your Options Medical, a “crisis pregnancy center” and faith-based antiabortion nonprofit, sent a mobile van to the Cape. Your Options Medical is training nurses and advocates to run its unit and plans to start services this month.
For many on the Cape, the van’s presence signaled the start of a worrisome effort to undermine access to abortion at the clinic, sparking members of Indivisible Mass Coalition to step up advocacy efforts.
The abortion rights action on Wednesday spread by word-of-mouth, drawing a large crowd from across the Cape, said Laurie Veninger of Indivisible Mass Coalition.
“Whether they know it or not – the Catholic churches of Cape Cod have decided to align themselves with extremists,” Veninger said. “They are now against women and vulnerable people.”
In a statement to the Globe, the Diocese of Fall River said “The Catholic Church is committed to defending the right to life of unborn children through prayer and advocacy. At the same time, this commitment is accompanied by efforts to provide support and assistance to expectant mothers who are facing a difficult or unintended pregnancy.”
In the background of the protests, business was going on as usual at Health Imperatives as patients and staff members entered the building without having to pass the line of people.
When the abortion rights signs went up, cars began to honk regularly in solidarity.
The demonstration marked the start of a 40-day round-the-clock prayer vigil by the antiabortion groups to send a message of ending abortion, according to the organization’s website. A few people clutched rosary beads and formed prayer circles. Others waved to the passing cars while holding antiabortion signs.
As vehicles rushed by Wednesday morning, David Christopher of Orleans held a sign that read, “It may not be too late,” with a phone number to a service claiming to provide a reversal remedy to an abortion pill.
The abortion “reversal” that prescribes progesterone to stop a medication abortion is unproven and unethical, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“I feel strongly that all life begins in the heart of God,” Christopher said. “I stand here because God is life, and there’s hope.”
Another activist said he wanted to remind women they have options other than terminating their pregnancies.
“Many come here scared, frightened, with nowhere to go,” said the man, who did not wish to be identified. “We are here as an option for them. They don’t have to be frightened or alone.”
The Rev. Margot Critchfield of Sandwich came to the protest to show her solidarity with women who must make a difficult decision regarding pregnancy and raising a child.
Those that are “pro-life” stole the term, Critchfield said. “We are all pro-life, but we are all pro-choice as well.”
Rabbi David Freelund of Cape Cod Synagogue also showed support, saying he feels strongly about protecting everyone’s freedom and right to choose. In his 19 years living on the Cape, he has never seen people standing in support of abortion rights.
But looking across at the sea of people in support of choice, he said, “I say we outdid them.”
The Rev. Dr. Kristen Harper, pastor of the Unitarian Church of Barnstable, agreed that showing out for reproductive justice is important.
The conservative antiabortion movement is not pro-people, Harper said. She believes in protecting both mother’s and children’s overall health and well-being, which includes healthcare.
“That’s why I’m here today,” Harper said.
Wednesday’s protest sparked something within Jennifer Rabold of Yarmouth Port, who was working at Planned Parenthood in Brookline in 1994 when two women, including her friend Shannon Lowney, were killed. Standing outside the clinic today, she was bewildered that women still must fight for their rights.
“She gave up her life (for reproductive rights),” said Rabold. “We need to defend that.”