Originally published May 19, 2010
A larger, more fortified facility that Planned Parenthood is preparing to build near University Avenue in St. Paul may enable the organization to obtain more federal funding and provide more abortions, pro-life advocates say, but it won’t halt pro-life efforts and may even offer some advantages over the current Highland Park site.
The 46,000-square-foot complex scheduled to open in late 2011 will be located on Vandalia Street and Charles Avenue, near the proposed Central Corridor light rail line, several universities and St. Paul’s Midway area.
The new $16 million center, which would include greater security and a fence around its parking lot, will allow Planned Parenthood to streamline its operations in a more accessible location, according to a statement from Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS).
Whatever reasons PPMNS offers for moving, pro-life efforts have played a role, said Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, who estimates that as many as 1,000 babies have been saved through pro-life efforts at the Highland Park site.
Pro-Life Action Ministries is an interdenominational, Christian organization dedicated to publicly defending the sanctity of human life.
“I absolutely firmly believe that’s why they’re moving — that they want to get away from this close presence of us being there praying and offering help to the women,” said Gibson, a member of St. Michael in Prior Lake.
Opening the much larger facility also seems strategic, said Sharon Wilson, respect life coordinator for the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life. “They’re doing this for a very specific reason and that’s to increase the number of abortions that they perform,” she said.
PPMNS could not be reached for comment but has previously emphasized non-abortion health care services it offers.
PPMNS appears to be positioning itself to receive some of the $11 billion in federal funding that will be available for Community Health Centers next year, according to a statement by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.
If PPMNS is expanding, pro-lifers need to increase efforts as well, said Will Cossairt, Total LifeCare Centers executive director and a member of St. Joseph in West St. Paul. TLC provides administration and support for 28 pregnancy-care centers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“If Planned Parenthood believes there will be more women wanting abortions, which is why they’re building a larger facility, that makes us aware that we need to ramp up our efforts as well to reach more of these women to tell them that there are positive and life-giving alternatives to abortion,” he said.
TLC is exploring the possibility of opening a new center near the PPMNS site, Cossairt said.
For now, however, its affiliate located near the University of Minnesota campus, University Life Care Center, will continue serving the university community, said Lisa Hunter, executive director and a member of the Cathedral of St. Paul.
The new facility will pose new challenges for pro-lifers because a fence will make it difficult to approach those entering and leaving, Gibson said. However, the new location, which isn’t on a major street, might make it easier to assemble for Good Friday and other services. At the same time, protesters can benefit from the busyness of University Avenue.
“I can imagine that our presence there may even have a higher impact than it would have on Ford Parkway,” he said. “It will be different . . . but we’ll be there either way.”
Along with increasing prayer and financial assistance to pregnancy care centers and other pro-life organizations, Catholics can respond to PPMNS’ planned expansion by contacting their state legislators to help promote legislation restricting abortion, Wilson said.
Father J. Michael Byron, pastor of St. Cecilia and associate theology professor at St. Paul Seminary, said he hasn’t yet had any conversations with his parishioners about the PPMNS move.
While he said he hadn’t had a chance to fully consider the effect on the parish, located a mile from the building site, he anticipated that if clinic clients are traumatized, it could create a need for the parish to fill. Catholic Spirit