Planned Parenthood expansion incites strong reactions statewide
December 6th, 2012
Lincoln, NE – Almost forty years after abortion was legalized in the United States, controversy over the procedure remains relatively unchanged. Planned Parenthood, often seen as a standard-bearer for abortion rights, is looking to open new clinics in cities across Nebraska, but reaction runs the gamut; while some locals are up in arms, others are ready to lay out the welcome mat.
Steady traffic zooms along Highway 34 just west of Hastings, located in south central Nebraska. A billboard looms on the north side of the road, high-contrast black and white with a womanâ€™s eyes staring out at drivers. Text on the left-hand side proclaims, â€œSomething inside dies after an abortion.â€
That billboard sits on Connie Consbruckâ€™s lawn, perched among a flock of smaller placards. The president of South Central Nebraska Right to Life, Consbruck is emphatically against abortion â€“ and, by extension, Planned Parenthood.
â€œThereâ€™s two clinics in Nebraska already, in Omaha and Lincoln. And we thought, that was enough, you know?â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s just that you want to protect your children. You want them to get to heaven. And living a life of sexual sin isnâ€™t going to get you to heaven.â€
Planned Parenthoodâ€™s services are not limited to abortion; they provide a variety of reproductive care on a sliding scale.
About a year and a half ago, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced it was looking to expand its operations in Nebraska. They operate clinics in Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.
Since that first announcement, however, theyâ€™ve been relatively quiet on the topic. The organization initially named Grand Island, Fremont, North Platte, Hastings, Norfolk and Kearney as locations for future clinics, but they now say nothing is set in stone.
â€œI think that those were larger population centers that had been identified across the state of Nebraska,â€ said Melissa Grant, director of business development for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. â€œThose may logically make sense, but thereâ€™s no definitive point about where we would go. No formal research really has been done to determine where we would be.â€
For now, Grant said, theyâ€™re focusing on raising the necessary funds for expansion as part of an $11.5 million capital campaign that began about two years ago. While Planned Parenthood quietly continues fundraising â€“ theyâ€™re at $9.3 million so far â€“ the chatter in potential locations for new clinics is perhaps just getting started.
Both Consbruckâ€™s organization in Hastings and a pro-life group in North Platte have presented petitions to their respective city councils voicing their opposition to Planned Parenthood â€“ the latter, Western Nebraska Community for Life, did so just last month. Member Peggy Orr said they collected more than 2,000 signatures.
â€œI guess my reaction was stunned indignation,â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t really think (Planned Parenthood) would be a benefit to our community at all.â€
Western Nebraska Community for Life is a Christian organization, and Orr said abortion goes against their religionâ€™s teachings.
â€œFor our group, I think the ideal outcome would be that there would no longer be a Planned Parenthood operating within the state of Nebraska,â€ she said.
Back in Hastings, Dr. Todd Pankratz is also concerned about Planned Parenthoodâ€™s expansion, but for different reasons than Orr or Consbruck. Pankratz runs Hastings Family Planning Center, which caters to some of the same demographics as Planned Parenthood: minority, low-income, uninsured.
â€œMy guess, if Planned Parenthood came to town, weâ€™d have to close our doors. They have significantly more money; they have significantly more political clout,â€ he said. â€œAnd we just could not compete.â€
Pankratz said the center offers many of the same services as Planned Parenthood, excluding abortion; if patients are interested in obtaining an abortion, Planned Parenthood is where he refers them.
In the almost 40 years since the historic U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, views have changed remarkably little: in 2011, as in 1975, 80 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal under all or certain circumstances, according to Gallup data. Perhaps illustrating many peopleâ€™s conflicting feelings, however, Gallup also found 50 percent of Americans consider themselves â€œpro-lifeâ€ while only 41 percent consider themselves â€œpro-choice.â€
Mitchel Rickett, who works for the Union Pacific Railroad in North Platte, puts himself in the second category. Heâ€™s written numerous letters to the North Platte Telegraph supporting abortion rights, and said he would welcome a Planned Parenthood clinic to the city.
â€œMy wife, when she had her daughter 33 years ago, she got help from Planned Parenthood at the time,â€ he said. â€œShe got prenatal care â€¦ they helped her get WIC, they helped her finance the birth of the child and also helped her with birth control.â€
He said heâ€™s received threatening phone calls and hate mail because of his views.
â€œI think the trouble with North Platte is thereâ€™s too many religious people in this town that, for them, the whole issue is abortion,â€ he said. â€œThey donâ€™t see the other health issues â€¦ they just look at abortion, and for them thatâ€™s the end all, be all.â€
It can be hard for women outside Nebraskaâ€™s urban areas to find the reproductive care they need, including basic contraception or even prenatal care. A federally qualified health center in Columbus, which provides reproductive care to vulnerable and underserved populations, has patients travel from more than 150 miles away to receive affordable care; Grant with Planned Parenthood said women travel to its clinics from across Nebraska, and even neighboring states.
Even though a 2011 poll found likely voters in Nebraska gave Planned Parenthood a 59 percent favorable rating, Grant said the organization has to move carefully.
â€œI know that as we reach out into rural communities and people have seen less and less access to a provider,â€ she said, â€œthere may be more stigma for women and men wanting to have questions answered or get information about birth control and how to take care of their body.â€
And controversial or not, Grant said, Planned Parenthoodâ€™s definition of care includes abortion.
â€œWhat we are doing is providing access to scientifically based, accurate information,â€ she said. â€œWe are providing access to medical treatment â€“ legal medical treatment.â€
At the heart of it all, Pankratz from the Hastings Family Planning Center said, both pro-choice and pro-life groups want the same thing.
â€œWeâ€™re all on the same page. We want to decrease unwanted pregnancies, we want to decrease teen pregnancies,â€ he said. â€œWe have to keep that in mind: what is the end goal? And we all have ideas to get there, itâ€™s just that weâ€™ve got to work with both groups to do that.â€
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