BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Over a dozen Birmingham-area pastors gathered to speak out against a new Planned Parenthood facility slated to open later this year in Birmingham. The Planned Parenthood Birmingham Health Center is under construction at 1019 1st Avenue North and is scheduled to open later this year, despite Alabama’s new law banning abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
Several pastors shared their belief that Planned Parenthood promotes a culture of death and advised women seeking guidance about unwanted pregnancies to visit a crisis pregnancy center instead of Planned Parenthood.
“This business is not welcome in Birmingham,” said Fr. Terry Gensemer with CEC for Life. “We will do everything we can to keep them from opening.”
Critics said Planned Parenthood’s influence in Birmingham has been waning, but the organization has been operating in Birmingham since 1930 and has no plans to leave, according to Barbara Ann Luttrell, Director of Communications for Planned Parenthood Southeast.
“We’re excited to preserve access to care that generations of Birmingham residents have been counting on,” Luttrell said.
She pointed out that in addition to abortion services, Planned Parenthood provides general healthcare for many people who have no other access to care, including cancer screenings, STD testing and a full spectrum of reproductive healthcare. Planned Parenthood sees patients on a sliding payment scale, Luttrell said, and can connect people to services if they are unable to pay.
Birmingham has over a dozen “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC), nonprofit facilities funded through religious organizations that counsel pregnant women against having an abortion. Sav-a-life Pregnancy Resource Center is a ministry started in 1980 with several locations that, according to the website, offer “free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, abortion information, parenting classes, and material assistances” to “empower these men and women to choose life.”
Luttrell criticized crisis pregnancy centers as “intentionally deceptive” and said they are often not staffed with doctors and misinform vulnerable women with inaccurate information.
“These are often complex decisions and folks should be armed with medically accurate information so they can make the best decision with their doctor and in their lives,” Luttrell said.
Dr. Harry Reeder, senior pastor with Briarwood Presbyterian Church, said he doesn’t buy claims by Planned Parenthood about access to care and said crisis pregnancy centers in Birmingham are not deceptive. They provide counseling, access to mercy ministries and have doctors available to women who come in, according to Reeder.
“I have three nurses in my church that are involved in a Sav-a-life clinic and so I know they have credentialed, competent, committed medical care and they don’t have an agenda except the sanctity of life,” Reeder said.
Some CPC’s have faced criticism by the medical establishment, including a 2018 article by the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, “Why Pregnancy Crisis Centers are Legal but Unethical.”
Luttrell admitted that Planned Parenthood has not been able to provide consistent abortion services in Birmingham, but blamed a physician shortage and “shame, stigma and targeted attacks” against doctors who perform abortions.
“We provide abortion services as frequently as possible and we plan to be back up and running in the new facility this year, providing the full spectrum of reproductive health services, and that includes safe, legal abortion," she said.
Governor Kay Ivey signed HB 314 in May, effectively banning all abortions and threatening physicians that perform them with up to 99 years in prison. The only exception would be if the mother’s health is in danger. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to block the new law. The law is scheduled to go into effect in November, 2019.