Abortion Foes Hail Decision by Clinic : Medicine: Family-planning groups decry move to stop procedures by Torrance company. Official of firm says action was taken for business reasons.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Torrance surgical clinic's decision to halt abortions is being hailed as a victory by anti-abortion groups that have responded by canceling a planned protest outside the clinic.

But local family-planning groups said they are disappointed by this week's action by Surgicenter of South Bay, saying they have never heard of a Los Angeles-area clinic stopping abortions in the face of protests.

"It worsens what is already across the country and across the state--a shortage of providers," said Robin Schneider, associate director of the California Abortion Rights Action League.

California Coalition for Life, an anti-abortion group, announced Wednesday that Surgicenter had agreed to stop allowing the procedure to be done on the premises. Anti-abortion forces say they had planned a weeklong prayer vigil outside the center, where as many as 200 protesters were scheduled to appear today. The clinic was one of 100 targeted for protests statewide, abortion foes said.

D. Timothy Paulson, administrator of Surgicenter of South Bay, said he decided to stop scheduling abortions because of the threat of protests. Abortions account for a fraction of surgical procedures at the outpatient surgery center, which specializes in eye surgeries, he said. Only 27 abortions have been performed there this year, he said.

"We weren't doing enough of them for it to be an issue to me," Paulson said. "I do double the amount of cataract extractions in one month."

Paulson said he met with opponents of abortion after hearing of the protest plans this week. He said activists were relying on incorrect figures regarding the number of abortions performed at the clinic when they targeted it for protest.

Nevertheless, Paulson said he gave California Coalition for Life a letter promising to halt abortions by Tuesday.

"We do not have an outright prohibition against (abortion), but we try to discourage it," said Christopher Grant Jr., senior vice president of Medical Care International Inc. of Dallas, which owns Surgicenter. "It's a political hot potato, and we'd just as soon not bother with the issue. . . . As a business matter--purely a business decision--we don't feel it's good business to be doing it."

The publicly held company has no political or religious affiliation, Grant said.

The South Bay has become a focal point for the abortion debate, especially since Planned Parenthood Los Angeles announced plans last winter to open its first South Bay clinic this fall in Torrance.

David Conrardy, a field representative with the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said he has met with about two dozen abortion providers in California in the last two to three years, and that Paulson is only the second to agree to halt abortions. He declined to identify the other person, saying he was a doctor who had requested anonymity.

Valerie Berman, project coordinator of the Clinic Defense League, an abortion-rights group, said she called Paulson Thursday to discuss his action.

"I'm hoping that he will rethink this decision," Berman said. She, too, said she knew of no other area medical facility that has halted abortions because of protests. "I think it's rather sad that it did happen," she said.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood's plans for a South Bay clinic have been delayed because no site has been found, spokeswoman Marie Paris said. The group is studying several sites, both in Torrance and in other cities, which she declined to identify.

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