UCC stands up for harassed Planned Parenthood leader

UCC stands up for harassed Planned Parenthood leader

August 22, 2012
Written by Barb Powell

Pastors and members of First Congregational UCC in Orlando, Fla., along with national and regional United Church of Christ leaders, are reaching out to support one of their own after a group of activists picketed outside her home carrying anti-abortion signs.

Jenna Cawley Tosh is the new president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando (PPGO), and a member of First Congregational UCC. She was the target Saturday morning of the anti-abortion demonstration in her neighborhood by the religious group.

After walking around the neighborhood with her husband and 3-year-old son, Tosh said a group of about 30 people with signs –– one of which read “Jenna Cawley Tosh kills babies and hurts women” –– lined up between her family and their house, forcing the family to push their way through the crowd.

“They’re well-known to law enforcement, and their tactics are to harass and intimidate,” Tosh said.

In the days since, Tosh said she has received phone calls from the entire pastoral team at First Congregational, and Wednesday night she was given a prayer shawl. The Rev. Kent Siladi, Florida Conference Minister, contacted Tosh to offer his support any way he could.

“She told me one way would be a [letter to the editor], so I sent that last night to the Orlando Sentinel,” he said. Siladi received a follow-up email from Tosh thanking him for the calls of support from the church and that she “appreciates the UCC immensely.”

In his letter to the Sentinel, which the newspaper will publish Friday, Siladi writes, “Religious opponents of Planned Parenthood get plenty of media attention these days. I want people to know that those negative religious voices do not speak for me, and they do not speak for others from a wide spectrum of faiths.”

Siladi already was scheduled to preach at First Congregational on Sunday, Aug. 26, and said he likely will say something publicly to the congregation about the event. He hopes to meet Tosh during his visit.

Society hears all about religious opponents to Planned Parenthood, Tosh said, but people should know there are religious groups such as the UCC that support Planned Parenthood. “The negative religious views don’t speak for all religious views,” she said.

In addition to reproductive health and education resources and services, Planned Parenthood also provides cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, diabetes screening, breast cancer screening, STD testing, male sexual health services, and menopause resources.

Tosh said in a blog on the PPGO website that the move may have been in reaction to the change in leadership. “They think that they can bully your new CEO out of this job and thereby bully Planned Parenthood out of existence. They couldn’t be more wrong,” she wrote. Tosh is using the attention of the event to generate more support and money for Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando.

The president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, UCC minister the Rev. Harry Knox, said he was disconcerted that the protesters acted to personally attack the Toshes.

“It’s one thing to say you disagree with the policies [of an organization like Planned Parenthood]. It’s quite another to accost their family, including a young child, in the street and be disrespectful in that way. It’s designed to intimidate,” Knox said.

It doesn’t appear that Tosh will give in to the tactic. Her top priority is ensuring the safety of her staff and families who visit the clinic, and said the doors have remained open this week.

Eventually, Tosh hopes the focus of the story moves back to Planned Parenthood’s services. “This story isn’t about me or Planned Parenthood. It’s about the high-quality and affordable care, and quality education for teenagers,” she said. “The UCC’s support is based on that.”

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