Pennsylvania state lawmaker responds to backlash: 'I will do better'

Pennsylvania state lawmaker responds to backlash: 'I will do better'
© Twitter @BrianSimsPA

Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims (D) vowed to "do better" on Tuesday after coming under fierce criticism for taking videos of himself aggressively confronting protesters outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Philadelphia.

Sims stopped short of an apology and said he was motivated to film himself criticizing and rebuking people standing outside Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania after having seen "harassment and discrimination" against patients while working as a volunteer escort.

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“When I was there on Thursday afternoon, I was not a volunteer escort; I was a neighbor, a concerned citizen and an unwavering supporter of women’s rights and yes, I was aggressive," Sims said of a video posted last week. "I know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially when I’m on the front lines of this civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania." 

The videos taken by Sims provoked an outraged response online, with critics saying he was harassing people exercising their right to free speech. An online petition calling for Sims's resignation has received more than 8,500 signatures as of Wednesday. 

He also faced face criticism for threatening to "dox," or release private information about, the people he confronted. Social media users said releasing such information could lead to harm or violence against the otherwise apparently peaceful protesters.

The lawmaker posted a video last week in which he confronted a woman holding a rosary outside of the facility and asked viewers to provide details about the woman’s identity so he could protest outside of her home.

Sims had previously approached other protesters outside Planned Parenthood, including a group of teenage girls.

Planned Parenthood said Tuesday it does not “condone” Sims’s approach of confronting anti-abortion protesters outside its facility. 

“I fully understand and respect their non-engagement policy and the last thing that I want to do is interfere with patients, staff or daily operations,” Sims said in the statement. “As an activist and an advocate, I’ve learned that pushing back against harassment and discrimination are a must, even when it’s uncomfortable.”

Sims, Pennsylvania’s first openly gay legislator, said Tuesday that he goes to the center himself for PrEP medication, which helps reduce the risk for HIV.

“As a volunteer patient-escort myself at this clinic for the last seven years, I have seen insults, harassment, racism and slurs directed at mostly young women entering the building to seek care,” Sims said. “Care for conditions that we, as outsiders, know nothing about."

"Last week was no different. What I failed to show in the video was the group of protesters praying at, not silently praying for, people entering the Planned Parenthood, intercepting them and harassing them for their personal choices," he said.