Planned Parenthood’s New Neighbors Brace for Controversy

Marie Allan sat on the front porch of her apartment and tried to envision anti-abortion protesters walking the sidewalk by the now-empty building across 38th Street.

She didn’t like what she imagined.

“We don’t need protesters here every day,” Allan said fretfully.

Neighbors of a new headquarters for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains will have no choice. Planned Parenthood’s secret purchase of a city block in Northeast Denver is now public knowledge. A large clinic and administrative offices are set to open in August 2008, according to a brochure Planned Parenthood officials have prepared for neighborhood distribution this week.

For Allan and her neighbors, this is not good news.

“I think I might move once they put it there,” said Monique, a woman who would only give her first name because of the contentiousness of the abortion debate.

Monique opposes the abortion services Planned Parenthood offers. But like Allan, she’s equally upset with the prospect of protesters harassing patients entering the clinic and turning her street into a spectacle.

And like most people – including those who oppose abortion – Monique doesn’t consider the new Planned Parenthood clinic “a death camp” or a place that “kills babies for profit,” as a spokesperson for Colorado Right to Life described it.

“I’ve gone to Planned Parenthood,” Monique said, standing in the doorway of her apartment 200 feet from what will be the new headquarters building. “I’ve done birth control. When I hear Planned Parenthood, I don’t think ‘death camp.’ They offer a lot of services to low-income people. If money goes to keeping people from having babies they can’t take care of, that’s a good thing.”

Monique was talking about birth control that reduces the need for abortions.

Family planning, counseling and distribution of birth control makes up 94 percent of services rendered in the five-state area administered by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said Leslie Durgin, senior vice president for community development.

 “Six percent of our service is abortion,” Durgin said.

Those abortions are legal, and they are safer than the illegal abortions that would result if groups like Colorado Right to Life succeed in their ultimate goal – taking away women’s individual reproductive rights.

Calling Planned Parenthood clinics death camps or for-profit baby killing factories is the kind of inflammatory talk that led Planned Parenthood of the Rockies to buy its new property without telling anyone.

Planned Parenthood branches in Austin, Texas and Alton, Illinois tried the stealth-purchase strategy for new clinics, Durgin said. In Portland, Oregon, Planned Parenthood bought city property for a new clinic. So the process was public from the beginning.

In Denver, said Durgin, Planned Parenthood made a quiet purchase, but then decided to go public with its plans when asked by a reporter.

“We’ve been a good neighbor for 90 years,” Durgin said.

Allan, Monique and others living in the townhouse apartments facing the new clinic wonder how good Planned Parenthood will be for their neighborhood. At the same time, they blame protesters as much as anyone for the disruptions that are likely to occur.

Over-the-top rhetoric has led to threats and attempts to intimidate Planned Parenthood’s local staff. In other parts of the country, such hate-speak has inspired killings of clinic workers. Think Eric Rudolph.

Allan has friends who lived near Planned Parenthood of the Rockies’ current clinic near 20th Avenue and Vine Street. She’s heard the stories of pictures of bloody fetuses hoisted by protesters. It’s not something kids going to play at nearby Martin Luther King Park need to be confronted with constantly, she said.

But with proper zoning in place and with permits in the works, Planned Parenthood is coming. The former red brick United Airlines office between Poplar and Pontiac on 38th Street will be renovated and expanded. The Planned Parenthood brochure shows an artist’s concept of a campus-like setting, beautifully landscaped and buffered by trees.

Conspicuously missing from the picture are the fence that will surround the property and, of course, anti-abortion activists who have the right to stand on publicly owned sidewalks.

“We have very few neighbors,” Durgin said “We bought a whole city block to provide privacy and security.”

The new clinic and administrative site is surrounded on three sides by railroad tracks, a parking lot and storage units and the back of a hotel. Planned Parenthood placed the clinic’s main entrance on a side of the building that faces the rear of the Renaissance Hotel at 38th and Quebec.

Among the lies anti-abortion activists like to tell is that Planned Parenthood targets minority women for abortions. That has already happened in Denver, where the location of the new clinic in a predominantly black neighborhood led to suggestions of racism.

Durgin said only 7 percent of the women who receive abortions at Planned Parenthood are African-American.

Allan, who is black, isn’t buying the racism charge.

She has seen the impact of unwanted and neglected children of any color on the entire community.

“We’re paying for babies people can’t afford,” she said.

There are also circumstances where Allan would consider an abortion.

“I’m not going to have a baby if I get raped,” she said.

Seated beside her, a friend who would identify himself only as Marshall E. told the story of his long-time girlfriend. “When she was young, she got pregnant by a friend who used drugs,” he said. “She had an abortion because she knew she couldn’t afford to have a baby.”

That was, as it should always be, her choice to make. Thing is, if she’d gone to Planned Parenthood in the first place she might not have had to make the decision.

That’s the point the folks talking about death camps and protesting outside Planned Parenthood seem to miss.

The organization’s main mission has never been to give women abortions. It has always been to keep women from getting pregnant until they feel ready to give birth.

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Jim Spencer

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