Valerie Gazzera showed up for her first protest Wednesday holding a hand-made sign as honking vehicles whizzed by a North Naples street.
"Abortion is murder," the 12-year-old had painted in black and red on a white poster board. She signed it, "God."
Gazzera stood with more than 200 other people, including her Ave Maria schoolmates and Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice, in a morning protest outside of Planned Parenthood of Collier County, on the corner of Goodlette-Frank and Creech roads.
"They shouldn't have that choice," Gazzera said of women. "The baby doesn't have a voice but it's alive."
The upper school students of Donahue Academy, a private Catholic school in Ave Maria, were bused by the school with parental approval to the first day of the 40 Days for Life, a national anti-abortion campaign. School administrators, teachers, and parents joined about 120 middle school and high school students, as they lined Goodlette-Frank Road with rosaries in hand, praying with a megaphone.
The demonstration lasted about three hours and also included members of local churches.
"The pulpit is out here on the sidewalk as well," said Steve Matuszak, a humanities teacher at Donahue Academy.
Before the protest, Dewane encouraged churchgoers to attend during an Ash Wednesday Mass at St. John the Evangelist in North Naples.
"We have to stand up for the rights we know we have," he said.
The bishop's visit came one day after Ave Maria University filed a lawsuit against the federal government opposing a federal mandate announced in January that requires free coverage of contraception by insurers. The cost the could be passed to employers, angering religious groups that object to contraceptive methods approved under the mandate.
The Diocese of Venice publicly denounced the regulation when it was announced in January as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Protestors, who are usually at the local Planned Parenthood on Mondays, will be demonstrating more regularly as part of the multi-city 40 Days for Life campaign during the next 40 days, which coincides with the Christian observation of Lent.
At the entrance to the facility, protestors tried to speak with drivers pulling into the parking lot.
Char Wendel, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Collier County, said staff escorts clients in when protestors are present, and did so Wednesday.
"Why are people surrounding a women's health center trying to deny access to women and men seeking health care?" she asked.
There was little interaction between Planned Parenthood employees and protestors Wednesday, except to ask the demonstrators to leave the driveway clear.
"We're going to stay open," Wendel said, "regardless who is standing on our sidewalk."