State and national Republicans lashed out Tuesday at a Philadelphia Democrat after he posted videos of himself berating antiabortion protesters outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in his Center City district.
One of the cell phone videos recorded by State Rep. Brian Sims had drawn nearly 1.8 million views as of Tuesday afternoon and a public rebuke from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas). One GOP state lawmaker called for an ethics investigation.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Sims acknowledged that his conduct had been “aggressive” and vowed to “do better for the women of Pennsylvania," though he did not apologize.
In one video, Sims approaches a woman and three girls who appear to be in their teens outside the Planned Parenthood clinic at 12th and Locust Streets and refers to them as “pseudo-Christian protesters who’ve been out here shaming young girls for being here.”
“I’ve got $100 to anyone who will identify any of these three,” Sims says in the video, adding that he is raising money for Planned Parenthood.
The unidentified woman responds, “We’re actually here just praying for the babies.”
The video was recorded on April 18 and posted to his Facebook page. It was brought up on Twitter late Monday by the founder of an antiabortion group called Live Action, and quickly went viral. Soon after, the state GOP accused Sims, a three-term incumbent, of harassment. Other prominent conservatives also questioned his conduct.
Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate, blasted Sims on Twitter, writing Tuesday that the “hateful, angry” state representative had offered a $100 “bounty” for the teenage girls’ identities.
In a second video, which Sims streamed on the app Periscope, he confronts a woman he describes as “an old white lady” who is “out here telling people what’s right for their bodies.”
In the 8-minute, 47-second video, taken Thursday outside the same clinic, Sims repeatedly condemns the woman, calling her conduct “disgusting,” “racist,” and “grotesque.”
“How many children have you clothed today?” he asks. “How many children have you put shoes on their feet today?”
He continues: “Or have you just stood outside of a Planned Parenthood shaming people for something they have a constitutional right to do? If you’re here about the children, you can pray at home for children.”
The video does not show the woman talking to anyone entering or leaving the Planned Parenthood location.
Sims says he hopes viewers will donate $100 to Planned Parenthood for every hour the woman is "out here telling people what’s right for their bodies.”
At one point, the woman tells Sims to “get your camera out of my face.” He responds that there’s “nothing Christian about what you’re doing” and urges her to call the police.
The video shows her holding a rosary as she appears to pray. Sims accuses her of hypocrisy for supporting the Catholic Church despite the clergy sex abuse scandal.
After Live Action highlighted the video on Twitter, Sims responded: “Bring it, Bible Bullies!”
State GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio on Tuesday said Sims’ conduct was “outrageous” and called for a criminal investigation into whether he violated harassment statutes or other laws.
State Rep. Stan Saylor (R., York) said Sims’ actions were a “concern to public safety” and warranted an investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
Sims, a lawyer who has served in the state legislature since 2013, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
But in a new video he posted Tuesday, he said he had lived near the clinic and served as a volunteer patient-escort there for years, and had seen patients, many of them young girls, harassed by protesters.
“What I should have shown you … was protesters gathered there to pray at — not to silently pray for — people coming in and out of Planned Parenthood, as they intercepted them and harassed them,” Sims said in the new video. But he said he appreciated Planned Parenthood’s policy not to engage protesters and didn’t want to interfere with patient care.
“I know that two wrongs don’t make a right," he said, "and I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania.”
For its part, Planned Parenthood said it had “a strict non-engagement policy with those protesting outside our health centers.”
“While we do not condone Rep. Sims’ approach, our patients deserve to have access to health care without shame and stigma,” Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
Steinberg also thanked Sims and other supporters in Harrisburg for their opposition to legislation “being pushed by politicians who want to roll back the right to safe, legal abortion.”