Two controversial anti-abortion activists who demonstrated at Eastern Washington University on Wednesday afternoon joined state Rep. Matt Shea and hundreds of others in the evening for the latest meeting of “The Church at Planned Parenthood” in Spokane.
Police were present at both events, and counterprotesters gathered outside Planned Parenthood.
During the EWU demonstration, Tom Meyer demonstrated on the Cheney campus with Jake Eakin, a self-described abortion “abolitionist” who believes women should be charged with murder for undergoing the procedure.
“All we’re seeking to do is take the existing laws that apply to the murder of born people, and apply them to preborn people,” Eakin said in a phone call after leaving EWU.
Two weeks ago, Meyer was involved in a similar appearance that prompted a counterprotest involving hundreds of students.
During that protest on Nov. 7, Meyer was accused of spitting on a student and spanking another on the buttocks. At the time, he was joined by Bruce Wakeman, who is known to preach on street corners in downtown Spokane.
Police recommended a charge of fourth-degree assault against Meyer, but prosecutors had not filed it in court as of Wednesday.
Eakin, who lives in Moses Lake, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 14 years in prison for the 2003 killing of a 13-year-old Ephrata boy, Craig Sorger.
Eakin, who was 12 at the time, beat Sorger with sticks after a friend, 12-year-old Evan Savoie, dropped a rock on Sorger’s head and began repeatedly stabbing him in a park. Eakin and Savoie are among the youngest murderers ever tried as adults in the United States.
Eakin has said he found redemption through Christianity while incarcerated and believes it’s his mission to stop abortion, which he equates with murder.
Eakin said he and Meyer went to EWU on Wednesday to seek out like-minded students, “share the gospel of Christ” and “bring attention to the plight of preborn children in the community of Spokane.”
They arrived on campus as many students observed Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes transgender people who have been targeted and killed in hate crimes. A candlelight vigil was planned for the evening.
In addition to protesting abortion, Meyer, who wore a “Make America Godly Again” cap, shouted messages intolerant of LGBTQ people. His voice was drowned out by a student with a microphone and a portable amplifier. The student fired off strings of profanity-laced insults at the man between karaoke songs in front of the student union building.
A few students engaged Eakin and Meyer in conversation, while others stood quietly in opposition, holding signs. Others gathered in the student union building, hoping to deprive the men of attention.
Jayla Jones, a member of the Black Student Union, said she and her peers held up signs promoting love and peace to counter Eakin and Meyer’s message.
“Condemning hate speech is not a violation of free speech,” Jones said.
Hours later Eakin was present at The Church at Planned Parenthood monthly gathering. While Eakin stayed in the background Wednesday, he has been kicked out of the gathering before.
Clay Roy, leader of The Church at Planned Parenthood, recalled having to remove Eakin from previous protests for being confrontational with Planned Parenthood supporters.
“I think Jake (Eakin) is at least waking up a little bit that he can’t do that stuff here,” Roy said. “I don’t know what he does other than when he’s here. I don’t have any communication with him anymore.”
The Church at Planned Parenthood is open to anyone and often people with more extreme views, like Eakin, attend.
“When they come here, we ask them to abide by the rules that we have here. And other than a couple of times, they have done that very well,” Roy said.
Planned Parenthood supporters arrived early Wednesday to secure the spot closest to the Planned Parenthood building and to relegate the protesters to a spot in front of the Salvation Army across the street.
A police presence was visible on both sides of the street and throughout the surrounding blocks.
Disability attorney Meghan Apshaga has come to support Planned Parenthood since July during the protests. She said protests have changed over time, drawing more response from police, who have begun putting up barricades.
“Honestly, I think that when people are moved enough to get out and into the street and make their voices heard – I think that’s great,” Apshaga said.
Apshaga did note that sometimes she believes the church breaks state law by being too loud and disturbing operations at a health care facility, a criticism other community members have often made.
The Facebook group Spokane United Against Religious Extremism and The Church at PP organized the showing of support, and member Tom Robinson said he hoped to focus on the other services that Planned Parenthood provides.
“Ninety-seven percent of the services they provide have nothing do to with abortion,” Robinson said. “Basic human rights say that everybody is entitled to medical services.”
Ken Peters, founder of The Church at Planned Parenthood, said he is “not against anything else they do.”
“The reason I’m here is for one thing,” Peters said of abortion.
Peters was excited for this month’s gathering because his inspiration for starting the church, Pastor Rusty Thomas, was in town as a guest speaker.
“I loved what he said about why aren’t more pastors doing something about it?” Peters said.
After Thomas spoke, Peters encouraged the crowd to head back to their local churches or to Covenant Church, where he is the pastor, and push others, especially pastors, to attend the Planned Parenthood gatherings.
“If we’re going to really live our doctrine, then I feel like every pastor should be here or we’re not really believing what we say we believe,” Peters said.
While Peters hopes pastors stand up for what they believe, Roy urged caution about how they do so. As for speaking and protesting at EWU, Roy is not sure how effective that form of outreach truly is.
“I think that people should have a right to speak wherever they are,” Roy said. “I think there’s common sense that comes in, and when you go onto a college campus you know what’s going to happen. The kids are going to go nuts.”
Roy said he did not know Meyer but did have an opinion about how he and Eakin chose to speak out.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong to do,” Roy said. “I just don’t know if it’s wise.”
Reporter Megan Rowe contributed to this story.