The Real Estate of Abortion

Ann Friedman of Feministing and The American Prospect has an awesome article up about the politics of abortion clinic real estate. It’s a crucial issue right now, especially considering the anti-choice attacks on the new Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, Illinois.

A little background for those who haven’t been following: Planned Parenthood is trying to open a new clinic in Aurora. PP has had a lot of trouble opening clinics before, because anti-choicers level large-scale attacks on anyone involved — they even harass the construction workers and the city council members in addition to their usual stalking of clinic workers, doctors, nurses and patients. They find out the names, addresses, phone numbers and other personal information of anyone who “aids” Planned Parenthood, and they systematically threaten and harass them, going so far as to contact their neighbors, friends, co-workers and classmates and hand out fliers accusing said people of “baby-killing” and other pleasantries. They contact anyone who helps anyone who helps Planned Parenthood — your dry-cleaner, your grocer, the people you interact with every day. They make no bones about the fact that anti-choicers have used violence in the past. They may not say “I’m going to kill you,” but when they track down all of your personal information, accuse you of murder, insist that you have to be stopped, and are affiliated with people who have killed abortion providers, well, the message is pretty clear.

Not surprisingly, people are intimidated. Construction companies bow out. City councils refuse to approve plans. Clinics don’t get built.

So when Planned Parenthood applied for a permit to build the clinic, they did it under the name of a subsidiary. They disclosed that they were building a health care clinic; they did not disclose that the clinic would be performing abortions. Anti-choicers found out, and flipped. They’re angry, basically, because Planned Parenthood tried to side-step their harassment. And now the clinic still isn’t open, and Planned Parenthood is entrenched in yet another legal battle.

Ann’s piece details the problem of the outward appearance of abortion clinics — they’re sometimes run-down and shabby on the outside. Why? Because providing health care at rock-bottom prices doesn’t leave a whole lot left over for new siding. Anti-choicers seem to have a fantasy that abortion providers are raking in the dough, but that’s hardly the case. They also seem to have a fantasy that Planned Parenthood performs abortions all the live-long day, when in reality the vast majority of their services focus on preventing abortion and providing health care to lower-income women. So they try to strip PP of funding, and they intimidate and harass PP employees. And that leads to situations like the ones Ann describes:

When we talk about the physical space where abortions are provided, we’re usually either referencing the pre-Roe era (the back alley) or the gauntlet of clinic protesters women must pass on the sidewalk outside. Rarely does the subject of the actual real estate of abortion providers come up. We don’t like talking about how too few clinics look like clean, inviting places, because it props up the anti-choice movement’s portrayal of all abortion clinics as dilapidated and riddled with health-code violations. But we should talk about the outward appearance of abortion clinics more often. Those imposing concrete blast walls exist because “pro-lifers” are prone to violence against women’s health care providers. Clinic facades can look a little shabby because, well, wouldn’t you rather have your health care provider spending the money on medical equipment rather than siding? Not to mention the fact that many states have laws, designed to target abortion providers, which require expensive interior renovations to change air-circulation methods, heighten ceilings, and widen halls and doorways.

Anti-choicers create laws and situations which end up creating unattractive women’s health clinics — and then they complain that the clinics are unattractive.

The protests in Aurora area really scary — the level of hate and vitriol feels like a throw-back to a decade ago when “pro-life” activists were shooting clinic workers for sport. They’ve gotten a little more savvy and now they’re pairing legal action with threats and intimidation. From Ann:

It’s interesting that the anti-abortion movement would go after Planned Parenthood for conducting its real estate business using a third party. Because it’s a time-honored anti-choice tactic to purchase, often under a third-party name, the building that houses an abortion clinic, then to subsequently raise the rent to exorbitant amounts or to have the abortion provider evicted outright. The next step is to turn the former clinic into a “crisis-pregnancy center.”

In 2000, a state senator who was a vocal abortion-rights opponent and two business partners purchased the building that houses Carhart’s clinic. Almost immediately thereafter, Carhart received notices that his lease on the lower portion of the building and the parking lot would be terminated in 30 days and that his lease on the rest of the building would end in six months. As the partnership’s lead investor, Bill Rotert, said at the time, “If it’s possible, I’m going to close it down. I’m already pricing chain.”

A judge eventually ruled the eviction notices were not valid. Three years later, Carhart scraped together the money to buy the property himself, after a court ruled that, as the occupant, he had the right to buy the building before it was sold to a third party. No doubt the massive legal fees (and resulting debt) incurred by court battles like this one have contributed to the Carharts’ inability to renovate the exterior of their clinic.

Word. Anti-choicers have been doing this for years. They also routinely set up “crisis pregnancy centers” across the street from women’s health centers. They give their centers nearly-identical names to the actual health care clinic, and they claim to offer care to women. In fact, they offer little more than a pregnancy test and an unnecessary ultrasound usually performed by an under-trained employee. They inundate women with false information, such as:

“If you have an abortion:
(1) You will be more likely to bleed in the first three months of future pregnancies.
(2) You will be less likely to have a normal delivery in future pregnancies.
(3) You will need more manual removal of placenta more often and there will be more complications with expelling the baby and its placenta.
(4} Your next baby will be twice as likely to die in the first few months of life.
(5) Your next baby will be three to four times as likely to die in the last months of his first year of life.”

You’ll also get breast cancer and kill yourself, if the abortion doesn’t kill you first.

Oh, and rape victims? Don’t you fret! You won’t get pregnant unless you liked it:

The truth is that pregnancy from rape is extremely rare. Many different studies have shown conclusively that rape almost never results in a pregnancy.”

After they flat-out lie to their clients, CPCs promise women that they’ll help them, and then they offer some diapers and a few used onesies — and the women usually have to attend Bible classes in order to earn the “baby bucks” to “buy” the items. Once the baby is a few months old, the promised aid stops — at that point, the woman has made her choice, and she needs to take some personal responsibility.

In other words, they’re some of the most morally bankrupt organizations out there. And our tax dollars support their existence.

The idea being crisis pregnancy centers is great — who could possibly be against helping pregnant women? But that isn’t what CPCs do. Their mission isn’t to help women — it’s to prevent abortion. And they’ll do anything to achieve that end, even if it means lying, misleading, and intimidating the women who walk through their doors.

As Ann points out,

It’s tough to see a run-down abortion clinic, with high concrete walls and peeling paint, next to a sparkling new “crisis-pregnancy center.” But the bottom line is that it’s really, really expensive to provide actual medical care. And it’s cheap to run an office-slash-misinformation center. Roll one ultrasound machine in, buy some beige furniture and, bam, you’re done. Lots of money left over to spend on the landscaping.

When you don’t actually do anything with all the funding you receive, it’s easy to have a pretty place of employment. It’s easy to rally hundreds of people together to oppose the building of a clinic that will provide health care to thousands of women who need it.

It’s also worth noting that the Aurora protests are being led by Joe Schiedler, an anti-choice nut with ties to the KKK who calls his organization a “pro-life mafia” that will stop abortion using “any means necessary.” He declared 1985 “a year of pain and fear” for women and doctors — and in 1988, his Pro-Life Action League was convicted of 121 crimes of threats and violence:

–In Los Angeles, they beat a post-operative ovarian surgery patient over the head with their anti-abortion sign, knocking her unconscious and causing her to bleed from the sutures in her abdomen.

–In Atlanta, they seized a clinic administrator by the throat, choking and bruising her.

–In Pensacola, Florida, in March 1986: “Scheidler and other Pro-Life Action Network leaders were in town, staying at the home of John Burt, another anti-abortion activist. On the evening of March 25, Joe Scheidler, [admitted former KKK member] John Burt, Joan Andrews, and others discussed what form of “protest” they would conduct at the clinic the next day. Several, including Joan Andrews, who was well-known for destroying medical equipment, agreed to invade the clinic the next morning. Scheidler also agreed to enter, if he thought he could do so without being arrested. Sure enough, the next day, John Burt, Joan Andrews and others invaded the clinic. They threw the clinic’s administrator down the stairs, injuring her badly; they shoved a NOW volunteer against a wall, causing her permanent injury; and they wrecked the medical equipment, putting the clinic out of business for several days. During the mayhem, Scheidler stood outside, handling press relations for his group. He praised those who went in and took credit for the invasion and property destruction.” [Testimony of NOW lawyer Fay Clayton, before the House Judiciary Committee]

“One method that has been used successfully to get an abortionist to cut down on his practice and even to swear off doing abortions is for a pro-lifer to make him a target for conversion. Efforts are made to get to know this abortionist’s family, his church affiliation, his memberships in professional organizations and clubs, and other facts about his lifestyle. Manifestation of this interest is always genuine, and persistent.”– Scheidler

“Several years ago we tracked down a twelve year-old girl who was going to have an abortion so that we could talk her out of it. Talking a woman out of having an abortion is not news. But tracking her down by using private detectives is.”–Scheidler

“You can try for 50 years to do it the nice way or you can do it next week the nasty way.”–Scheidler

This is who is leading the anti-choice protests in Aurora. This is the face of the “pro-life” movement. And it’s a lot uglier than a shabby abortion clinic.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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9 Responses to The Real Estate of Abortion

  1. Pingback: Feministe » Anti-Choice Criminals

  2. ekf says:

    What gets me about the Aurora clinic bullshit is that I do real estate law, and there isn’t a developer or property owner who uses their parent company name as the basis for permitting. They use the name of the single-purpose entity, usually a limited liability company established for the purpose of purchasing and developing the property. They apply for permits on the broadest basis, so that they have the most freedom to operate the property.

    For example, if a developer builds a strip mall, and that strip mall might, at the time of the development, include a bank, a manicure shop and a short order restaurant, the developer isn’t going to apply for permits to do only those three things — the developer will apply for permits to develop the space for a variety of commercial uses, which would include a laundry list of pretty much everything under the sun, and then they’d wait for the city to come back and preclude, say, using it for a dry cleaners if the area near the strip mall would be in danger for ground water contamination. And, for the most part, the city has no idea what deep pockets sit behind the thinly capitalized single purpose entity called something like “NE Chicago Strip Mall LLC.”

    So while I see how this whole mess is playing out in the press and the political process, every whiff of it disgusts me. What the anti-choice side is arguing has no basis in the way that real estate development works day in day out for all sorts of businesses. That PP used the name Gemini and applied as a health care clinic is all that would have been required if they provided outpatient orthopaedic surgery and physical therapy. It’s all that would have been required if they provided pediatric care, including minor childhood surgeries like tonsillectomies. But because they provide, in addition to all of their other services, surgical abortions, they need to call themselves Abortions R Us and note that they provide abortions? Bullshit. Total bullshit.

  3. Peanutcat says:

    Where does “right-to-life” come in here?

  4. Karalora says:

    Their mission isn’t to help women — it’s to prevent abortion. And they’ll do anything to achieve that end,

    Anything, that is, except actually try to prevent unwanted pregnancies altogether by improving women’s education about and access to all forms of contraception, including emergency contraception. Because all that would, you know, help women, which isn’t their mission.

  5. ElleBeMe says:

    EKF –

    I really like all the points you made, especially since I have no clue as to the process for development and such.

    Do you think it possible that perhaps (not to sound like a conspiracy nut, but knowing full well my next statement will make me look like one) there is a mole in PP who leaked this at an opportune time to inflict monetary dammage on PP and generate all the bad press possible for PP?

    The reports I read were of construction workers being suspicious of the rooms they were making in the building…”WHY would they need x small rooms and one big recovery room” I would assume that a contractor would not make such a distinction if they routinely built medical offices/hospitals/outpatient care centers….and where would they get the idea to research the company for whom they’re constructing this building?

    Am I the only one who smells a rat?

  6. bmc90 says:

    Ekf is right. No one is stupid enough to expose their operating entity with all their other assets and income in it or themselves individually to premises liability. Trying to deny PP the ability to do business the same way everyone else does is disengenous. I have a lot of doctor clients and none of them own their facilities in the name of their practice or individually. Is it possible to try to do the same thing to these chuckleberrys’ assets that they are trying to do to PP?

  7. Cara says:

    I doubt a mole, ElleBeMe. I work for Planned Parenthood and know the screening process that take place. I also know the conversations take place, and have trouble imagining that even the most determined wingnut could sit through and participate in them– particularly if they’re nutty enough about abortion to want to try this sort of thing in the first place. I suppose that anything is possible, but I consider it exceedingly unlikely.

    My guess is that a wingnut or two did a bit of research and looked up the company that PP used in the permits and saw that it had been used previously to build PP buildings. We’re more likely dealing with a nosy construction worker, like the reports suggest.

    Also, as someone who works for PP, the stories like the one above are absolutely terrifying. Even more so than you would expect.

  8. Oh, and rape victims? Don’t you fret! You won’t get pregnant unless you liked it

    I almost spit out my coffee when I read that. Funny.

  9. ElleBeMe says:

    I doubt a mole, ElleBeMe. I work for Planned Parenthood and know the screening process that take place. I also know the conversations take place, and have trouble imagining that even the most determined wingnut could sit through and participate in them– particularly if they’re nutty enough about abortion to want to try this sort of thing in the first place. I suppose that anything is possible, but I consider it exceedingly unlikely.

    I hope you are right. But considering Scheidler has admitted that he has “moles” working in clinics….and I happen to know of an anti-choicer who has also claimed contact with a clinic worker who is anti-choice….HEY, there is always the possibility. Now I have no evidence, and my lack of evidence does not equate proof of anything…..it just seems to me rather convenient that all of a sudden…so close to opening this is discovered.

    I don’t know where you live, but construction workers in my area don’t speak much english and their citizenship status is rather questionable. But it is possible a foreman could have suspected and been nosy.

    I guess I’m still pondering the idea an insider tipped them off….

    If certain intelligence agencies can place moles in strategic locations accross the globe, why can’t anti-choice advocates be positioned in PP? Remember, these people will stop at nothing. And it is quite easy to cheat a lie detector and weasel your way thorugh interrogative questioning. Spies are trained to do this…and frankly, I wuldn’t put it past the pro-forcers to do this.

    But I’ll leave my tin-foil hat ideas on the side.

    And I know that you place your lives on the line each day. The only thing I can think of that would be comparable would be working in a US embassy in an “unfriendly” part of the world…..

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