The protesters were responding after Democratic state Rep. Brian Sims filmed himself berating pro-life demonstrators outside a Planned Parenthood clinic.
By NBC10 Staff and Associated Press
Dozens of people flocked to a Planned Parenthood office in Center City, Philadelphia after a Pennsylvania lawmaker posted video of himself berating pro-life women and teen girls who were demonstrating and praying outside the clinic.
Demonstrators from the pro-life group Live Action blocked Locust Street outside the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center as they rallied in support of anti-abortion initiatives. Some at the “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” chanted “resign now” as they demanded Rep. Brian Sims’ ouster.
Some supporters of the legislator also appeared, one with a sign “I vote 4 Brian Sims.”
Sims, a Philadelphia Democrat, posted an eight-minute-plus video on social media that showed him peppering a woman with questions and criticism.
“Shame on you. What you’re doing here is disgusting. This is wrong. You have no business being out here,” he told the unidentified woman.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput weighed in Thursday and urged area Catholics and those against abortion to “channel their indignation into right action and prayerful witness.”
Chaput urged his flock to join the Live Action prayerful rally outside the clinic, but fell short of calling for Sims to step aside.
“I’m encouraging broad participation in this peaceful initiative,” Chpaut said. “Let us meet the hateful actions of Representative Sims with the love of Christ and let us fervently pray for respect for life from conception to natural death.”
People followed Chaput’s call for action and blocked Locust Street from 11th to 12th streets starting just before 11 a.m. Some of them held umbrellas as a light rain fell and held up signs calling for freedom of speech. The rally continued past noon.
The original video was apparently shot outside the Planned Parenthood health center in Sims’ district.
As she studiously ignored him, Sims told viewers the woman had been confronting the people who were walking into the clinic.
The woman said little in response as Sims attacked her protest as “racist” and “shameful.” At one point she took a rosary from her bag and clutched it.
“Get your camera out of my face,” she told Sims after about four minutes of confrontation. He told her no and suggested that protesters target her home.
Sims asked viewers who support his position in favor of abortion rights to donate to Planned Parenthood.
“You’re out here shaming people for doing what they have a constitutional right to do,” Sims told the protester, calling her “an old white lady” multiple times.
He asked her whether she had protested last year when a grand jury report found that hundreds of Catholic priests had molested at least 1,000 children in Pennsylvania dioceses over the course of 70 years.
Sims told viewers that “this is what they deserve,” and that protesters should not be telling others what to do with their bodies.
Replies to Sims’ Facebook account accused him of bullying the woman and harassing her as she prayed in a public place.
A second video showed Sims yelling at Ashley Garecht along with her two daughters – ages 15 and 13 – and their friend, outside the Planned Parenthood.
In the video, Sims asked viewers to identify the teen girls, who he described as protesters and “pseudo Christians.” Sims also offered a reward for the information, promising to donate $100 to Planned Parenthood.
“No grown man should act that way toward any minor under any situation,” Garecht said. “Mr. Sims is a large man. I’m a tall woman. But of course, he had an imposing physical presence.”
Garecht also told NBC10 Thursday they’ve raised $100,000 for the Pro-Life Union of Philadelphia in two days because of the video.
On Tuesday, Val DiGiorgio, the chairman of the state Republican Party, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney William McSwain, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner asking for a criminal investigation into Sims’ conduct in the videos.
“Not only does Rep. Sims, a former collegiate-level football quarterback, use physical intimidation, but he also threatens people with so-called ‘doxing’ or enticing viewers to provide identifiable information about his targets to increase the harassment and intimidation of his victims,” DiGiorgio wrote.
A spokesperson for Krasner confirmed that the office received the letter and said that it is being reviewed.
“People are entitled to exercise their First Amendment rights and should be free from intimidation and harassment,” DiGiorgio said.
A spokeswoman for McSwain declined to comment. A request for comment has been made with the state attorney general’s office.
In a Twitter post on Sunday, Sims responded to an online critic: “Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values,” he wrote.
Sims posted a follow up message on Tuesday in which he promised to “do better” and stated “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“As an activist and an advocate, I know why pushing back against harassment and discrimination are a must, even when they’re uncomfortable, but last week I wasn’t a patient escort,” Sims said, referring to a volunteer role he has performed in the past. “I was a neighbor and a concerned citizen and I was aggressive. I know that two wrongs don’t make a right and I can do better and I will do better for the women of Pennsylvania.”
Planned Parenthood says it doesn’t condone confronting demonstrators. It had escorts in orange vests bring in patients during the rally.
Sims, in Harrisburg for a legislative voting session, did not respond to several messages left over the past few days.
A senior Republican in the state House, Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor of York County, said Tuesday that Sims should apologize.
“… I believe his actions warrant an investigation by the House Ethics Committee,” Saylor said in a news release. “The actions taken by Rep. Sims are serious and are a concern to public safety.”