Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune , Published July 01 2012
Anti-abortion clinic to open near abortion provider in downtown Duluth
Plans are for an anti-abortion clinic to open kitty-corner from the Building for Women, where the only abortions in northern Minnesota are performed, at the Women’s Health Center.
The 3,000-square-foot clinic will soon be built on the northeast corner of First Street and First Avenue East, on one of two parking lots owned by A&L Properties. A&L’s plan for the project recently received approval from the Duluth Planning Commission.
The project — to house the new Women’s Care Center — is headed for construction this summer over the objections of staff at the Building for Women.
“We already have problems with picketing and harassing patients, so we feel if the crisis pregnancy center goes kitty-corner from us, there just may be more picketing and harassment,” said Laurie Casey, executive director of the Women’s Health Center. “We’ve heard this happens elsewhere. When clinics have similar names, there are problems.”
The 20 or so Women’s Care Centers in the country are among about 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers on the front line of the pro-life movement, according to Linnea House, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.
“They actually have buildings; they present themselves as clinics,” House said. “But they are not medically licensed. They do not have doctors. They are generally run by volunteers. Many offer ultrasounds, but a lot don’t have the technicians that are qualified or have the background to be able to interpret them accurately.”
Angie Wambach, who will serve as the clinic’s unpaid director, said they hope to open by the end of the year.
She said the clinic will offer free services, including counseling, pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, prenatal education, and parenting classes and self-sufficiency training for new parents and women facing unplanned pregnancies. They also will provide cribs, car seats, diapers and other baby items through a Crib Club program.
“We exist to help young moms and families,” said Wambach, of rural Duluth. “Our goal is to have healthy babies and healthy moms and healthy families.”
But fundraising letters for the project, signed by Wambach, also talk about encouraging “abortion-minded women” to have their babies.
“Please know that any gift —of any amount — will be carefully used to help young women choose life for their babies,” said one letter dated Dec. 14, 2010.
Wambach, a mother of three, participated last October in the 40 Days for Life vigil outside the Building for Women. She told a reporter she believed that life begins at conception and that abortion is harmful to women emotionally, mentally and sometimes physically.
Construction of the new clinic will begin in mid-July and will take about 120 days, said Rob Link, principal partner of A&L Properties.
“We’re ready to go,” he said Saturday.
With a simple one-story design by DSGW Architects, Link said the small flat-roofed, one-story structure won’t be downtown Duluth’s most attractive building. Although nearby buildings are brick, this one will have vinyl siding. That’s because it is in a “problematic” area and vandalism is expected, Link said.
Fundraising that began in 2010 to establish the Women’s Care Center is close to the $800,000 goal, Wambach said. That probably includes a $100,000 matching gift from the Women’s Care Center in Indiana, according to a fundraising letter sent out last December.
Wambach said the center won’t be biased; rather, staff of the new center will offer unconditional love and nonjudgmental support, she said.
“We’re not there to change anyone’s mind,” she said. “Whatever opinion staff members hold, we won’t inflict on anyone who comes in the door. We would never mislead anyone if they come there by mistake. We’re here to help young moms and families, and that is all. We’re here to help them make the best choices for themselves.”
Casey said she doesn’t buy it.
“Crisis pregnancy centers like to be near abortion clinics and try to confuse women,” she said. “They try to get them to come to their place by mistake. Usually, they give inaccurate medical information and try to change a woman’s mind.”
And with similar-sounding clinic names at the same street corner, Women’s Health Center patients seeking abortions could easily walk into the wrong building.
“I don’t care if they’re anywhere else in Duluth, but they purposely want to build there so they can confuse women about the services they offer,” Casey said.
NARAL Pro Choice Minnesota said a recent investigation found that the crisis pregnancy centers in Minnesota hide their anti-abortion agenda by saying they are providers of all-options counseling. Ideologically driven, their primary goal is to dissuade women from having abortions, NARAL Pro Choice Minnesota said in a report. They target and mislead vulnerable women seeking pregnancy-related information and counseling, according to the report.
Most of these clinics provide women with inaccurate information linking abortion to an increased risk of breast cancer, severe mental health problems, future infertility and miscarriages, the report said. None of the centers investigated recommended birth control, it said.
Link said his tenant, Women’s Care Center, wanted to be on First Street in a freestanding building.
Wambach said the site across from the Women’s Health Center was chosen because that’s where the greatest need is.
“We chose our locations based on the need of the community and where most under-served women and families are,” she said. “Central Hillside is where the greatest need is, the greatest poverty. The women and families in the community don’t have the support systems to promote healthy parents. Perhaps abortion clinics are located there as well.”
However, another crisis emergency center, offering similar counseling and help, is nearby.
Lake Superior Life Care Center is just three blocks away at 109 W. Second St. Calling itself a pregnancy resource center, it offers urine-based pregnancy tests, counseling and parenting education. With a “life-
affirming stance,” it does not refer women for abortions or dispense birth control or morning-after pills, according to its website.
The Women’s Care Center’s fundraising letter from December 2010 gave a reason for establishing a clinic at the site. It noted that the number of women choosing abortion in St. Louis County has gone up 4 percent while numbers had declined in surrounding counties.
“For this reason, we are opening a new pregnancy resource center in the heart of our city immediately proximate to the Women’s Health Center (abortion clinic),” the letter signed by Wambach said.
The letter indicated that the new center will give “previously abortion-minded young women” the opportunity to “choose life for their precious babies.”