About a dozen picketers demonstrated outside the Helena Civic Center Thursday to protest the Helena Independent Record newspaper's decision to bar Planned Parenthood of Montana from participating in a health fair.
Demonstrators held signs that read "The Helena IR bans Planned Parenthood from health fair," and "I stand with Planned Parenthood."
Stacey Anderson, Planned Parenthood public affairs director, said her organization was initially invited to join the more than 60 health and wellness businesses and organizations exhibiting at the event fifth annual event.
"Then about a week ago they walked the check back to our office," Anderson said. "They said they decided not to let either side exhibit."
"Either side," Anderson explained, meant anti-abortion groups and pro-abortion rights groups.
Anderson said Planned Parenthood provides a variety of family planning, medical, counseling and educational services to women, including abortion services. Last year the Helena Planned Parenthood clinic served 1,685 clients, most of whom are low-income individuals.
Questions directed to the Independent Record regarding the decision to bar Planned Parenthood from the health fair were directed to publisher Randy Rickman. Rickman did not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment.
"We are deeply disappointed that our local paper is choosing to censor our community, our providers and dismiss our patients," Anderson said.
This is not the first time Planned Parenthood and the Independent Record have publically clashed.
In May 2010 Rickman penned a controversial editorial supporting the Oklahoma Legislature's passage of a bill that requires women to get an ultrasounds and hear a detailed description of the fetus prior to an abortion.
Pro-abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood, blasted Rickman for the piece.
"We’ve had challenges with the IR in the past months and had hoped that after our staff met with the publisher and editorial board that a greater understanding of the breadth of our services would have prevailed," Anderson said. “Anti-choice sentiment and politicization should not weaken our ability to advocate for our patients or have access to the only newspaper in Helena."