Planned Parenthood to offer abortions
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NAPLES — Swarms of abortion opponents are expected to converge early Monday to protest outside the clinic of Planned Parenthood of Collier County in anticipation of the debut of abortion services.
Estimates of crowds that could reach into the hundreds and even thousands will put to test the clinic’s security measures for the safety of employees and patients.
With the clinic’s location at 1425 Creech Road in North Naples straddling law enforcement jurisdiction between the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and Naples police, both agencies are mobilized to keep traffic flowing through the predominantly residential area, ensure access to the clinic and enable demonstrators to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Both agencies say they are prepared for several hundred demonstrators to many more, with plans in place to adjust staffing as necessary.
“We’ve had several guesses of 300 to 400 to 3,000 or 4,000,” said Collier Sheriff Lt. Harold Minch, head of safety and traffic enforcement. “We are assuming it’s only going to be local people.”
He said both sides of the abortion debate have been quiet and rumors have been churning so the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t know what to expect in terms of turnout.
Directors of the Naples Pro-Life Council and the Florida Right to Life couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.
Patricia Bucalo, an abortion opponent and local pro-life activist, said Friday she doesn’t know how many people will be present.
“We’re just planning to be a peaceful and prayerful presence for the women and their babies,” she said.
Members of Ave Maria University’s Students for Life will be present Monday with silent prayers, said Jon Scharfenberger, president of the student group.
He couldn’t offer an estimate of how many students, because there are classes in progress.
“We do hope, especially on Monday, to have a representation as private citizens to stand in union with local (people),” he said. “We do feel strongly against this issue. We are feeling we need to be out there as many Mondays as we can.”
Members of the student group were shocked by Planned Parenthood’s announcement last month, he said.
“It’s not an issue we can stand neutral on. It is a matter of life and death,” he said.
Officials with the Pregnancy Resource Center of Southwest Florida, which provides support to women with unwanted pregnancies, doesn’t participate in demonstrations, said Dan Steiner, executive director of the nonprofit organization that helps 1,000 women each year.
“We quietly and compassionately are helping women make life choices,” he said, adding that the local Planned Parenthood starting to offer abortions has far-reaching implications.
“The provision of services which destroy the weakest and most vulnerable in our midst, i.e. the unborn, opens the door to devaluing life at every stage,” Steiner said. “Once you give permission to take human life, it is hypocritical to say it’s wrong.”
In reaction to Planned Parenthood starting abortions, the pregnancy resource center has purchased a $150,000 state-of-the-art mobile unit outfitted with an ultrasound machine, pregnancy testing equipment and referral materials for women as an alternative to abortion, he said.
Steiner said the mobile unit may be brought Monday to the vicinity of Planned Parenthood but there is a parking concern.
Minch, of the Sheriff’s Office, declined to say how many deputies have been assigned to the Creech Road region for tactical purposes but said it will be significant.
“Our job here is to keep everybody safe,” he said. “We will be there as long as we need to keep people safe.”
The unincorporated area is on the north side of Creech, so that is the Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction; the south side of Creech is the Naples police domain.
No parking will be allowed on county right-of-way with drainage and ditches and it will be strictly enforced.
“Wheels on pavement and obstructing traffic will get towed,” Minch said. “Certainly there’s no parking for several thousand people. It doesn’t exist.”
Mike Herman, spokesman for Naples police, said officers will be as invisible as possible to keep order and open roadways while enforcing city parking regulations. Right-of-way parking will depend on what’s allowed on any given city street, he said. Officers will tell people if they are violating parking regulations or obstructing traffic flow.
“Right now we are not sure what to expect other than a lot of people,” Herman said, adding that motorists who don’t need to be in that area on Monday should avoid it.
For certain, abortion opponents are expected to span the sidewalks on Goodlette-Frank Road and Creech, and onlookers likely will slow down traffic on Goodlette-Frank.
Planned Parenthood announced Aug. 21 that it will start offering first-trimester abortions on Monday after a year of planning and a 16-year absence of the procedure being available in Collier.
Dr. Wallace McLean stopped performing abortions in 1996 at his private practice when abortion opponents started demonstrating outside his home, in addition to protesting outside his practice.
Since then, local women seeking abortions had to travel to clinics or doctors’ practices in Miami or Fort Myers. An estimated 1,600 women annually in Collier have an abortion somewhere, said Char Wendel, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood in Collier.
Wendel declined to say how many women are scheduled for an abortion Monday, the only service that will be available on Mondays. Appointments are required. In October, Planned Parenthood will start offering the abortion pill.
“We are seeing the need is there,” Wendel said.
She also doesn’t have a clear idea of how many abortion opponents will be lining the sidewalks, adding that blocking access to the clinic parking lot would violate the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. The law was passed by Congress in 1994 after a spate of violence outside offices of abortion providers, most notably with the death of Dr. David Gunn in March 2003 outside of a Pensacola clinic.
This past May, Dr. George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions at his Kansas City women’s clinic, was shot and killed as he served as an usher at his church.
On Friday, an abortion opponent, Jim Pouillon, was shot and killed outside of a high school in Owosso, Mich., 20 miles from Flint.
“We are expecting a significant amount of protesters,” Wendel said. “We are doing everything we can to protect staff and patients, and remind everyone that abortion is a legal procedure in the United States of America and we are not becoming an abortion clinic. We are enhancing our services to the full gamut of reproductive and sexual health-care services.”
Planned Parenthood will have its full staff of 22 employees working on Monday, along with Dr. Philip Waterman, a Cape Coral physician, who has been hired to perform the abortions. He does abortions at several other Planned Parenthoods around the state.
Waterman has declined to be interviewed.
In Florida, there are seven other Planned Parenthood sites that offer abortions, with the nearest in Fort Myers and Miami.
“Last year, 100,000 abortions were done in Florida and Planned Parenthood did 8,000 of them,” Wendel said, adding that private physicians perform the bulk of abortions in their practices.
The Naples Planned Parenthood has hired off-duty sheriff’s deputies for Monday, has its own security and will have escorts for women from the parking lot to the clinic entrance for protection.
“I think we are going to have four all-day volunteers who have all been trained,” Wendel said, adding the escorts will wear yellow vests and carry umbrellas to help protect patients’ identities. “Other places do it that way to give some semblance of privacy.”
Supporters of Planned Parenthood have been told not to offer a counter-presence to the abortion opponents, Wendel said.
In preparation of starting abortions, Wendel and her staff consulted with local law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Marshal’s Office, which are responsible for protecting people who work at reproductive services centers.
“The U.S. Marshal’s Office contacted (us),” she said. “And the Department of Justice originally contacted us when our doors were cemented shut because that was a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law. It has both civil and criminal penalties.”
The vandalism at the clinic with a Super Glue substance to seal the doors occurred April 25; no suspects were arrested. Afterward, Planned Parenthood beefed up its surveillance cameras.
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Follow the breaking story Monday on naplesnews.com.
---- Live video from outside Planned Parenthood
------ A live blog updating the day’s events
--------- Photos from the scene