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Planned Parenthood Clinic in Lawndale Won’t Do Abortions : Health: First such South Bay facility will open Oct. 11. Both sides in abortion debate are claiming victory.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Planned Parenthood Los Angeles said Wednesday that it is opening a clinic in Lawndale. But the announcement came with a twist--the clinic, at least initially, will not offer abortion services.

For nearly three years, local activists on both sides of the abortion debate have been gearing up for controversy once Planned Parenthood decided where it would open its first South Bay clinic.

All along, Planned Parenthood said the South Bay clinic would perform abortions. But in announcing the Oct. 11 opening of its new Hawthorne Boulevard facility--its 11th Los Angeles-area clinic--the organization said it decided not to offer abortion services there. And it has not determined whether to do so at a later date.

Suellen B. Wood, the agency’s executive director, denied that Planned Parenthood is caving in to anti-abortion protests, saying the agency simply wants to start up so-called “core services,” such as promoting contraception, before deciding whether to add abortion.

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“We want to get in there and see that all systems go right,” Wood said.

Some abortion-rights advocates, in fact, are calling the clinic’s opening a defeat for abortion foes.

“It shows that the anti-choice people can scream as loud as they like, and that’s all it’s going to be--a lot of screaming,” said Deborah Blair Porter, co-coordinator of the Palos Verdes/South Bay chapter of the National Organization for Women.

But anti-abortion leaders on Wednesday were also declaring victory, crediting the about-face to a long-running campaign in the South Bay against Planned Parenthood that has included public protests and letter-writing campaigns.

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“I’m elated,” said Monika Moreno, spokeswoman for the South Bay Pro-Life Coalition. “It’s the outcry from the community the past three years that has suddenly swayed them to eliminate abortion services.”

Abortion foes vowed to continue the pressure by picketing and distributing leaflets outside the Lawndale clinic.

Jeff White, director of Operation Rescue of California, said his group will also picket clinic workers at their homes as part of its so-called “No Place to Hide” campaign, even though they will not be performing abortions.

“We fear that once they’re settled in,” White said, “they will indeed start killing children.”

The Lawndale clinic is opening at a tense time for family planning clinics nationwide. A Florida doctor who performed abortions was shot and killed early this year, and a Wichita, Kan., abortion doctor was wounded last month. Meanwhile, reports of vandalism and fires at clinics are on the increase.

Early Wednesday, a firebombing at a Planned Parenthood family planning clinic in Lancaster, Pa., caused about $130,000 in damage, according to news reports. The clinic does not offer abortions but makes referrals, and abortion-rights advocates claimed that prompted the attack.

In the South Bay, abortion foes have focused on picketing and passing out leaflets. Some protesters have picketed the offices and homes of local physicians that they say perform abortions.

Organizers of the protests say they believe in nonviolence. Still, Planned Parenthood has spent considerable time on security-related planning for its Lawndale clinic, said Wood, who declined to discuss specific security measures.

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“For me to say that security is not a concern would be foolish,” Wood said. “Obviously, we’re being cautious.”

The 3,800-square-foot Planned Parenthood clinic in the Lawndale Medical Plaza will offer contraceptive services, pregnancy testing and counseling, adoption referrals, breast and cervical cancer screening, premarital blood testing and the detection and treatment of most sexually transmitted diseases, agency officials said.

At least initially, however, it will not provide prenatal care, HIV testing or surgical services such as abortions, vasectomies or tubal ligations.

“The decision was made to provide what we really consider our core services,” said Wood, who became executive director this summer. That decision, she said, was made by the agency’s management.

Of the 11 clinics operated by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, three offer abortion services, which account for 5% of the agency’s services, said spokeswoman Josie Corning. Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which began in 1965, reports that it is now the largest private, nonprofit provider of family planning and reproductive health care services in the county.

Research showed a need for reproductive health care services in the South Bay area, according to a Planned Parenthood press release. The Lawndale clinic, it said, will make those services more accessible to residents of an area extending from Compton and Los Angeles through the South Bay to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Planned Parenthood first announced in early 1991 that it would open a South Bay clinic offering birth control, prenatal care and abortion among its services. The clinic originally was to open in Torrance in late 1991, and Planned Parenthood sought to purchase a site. But when no suitable building had been found by October, 1992, agency officials said they would rent a South Bay site instead.

The Wednesday announcement was the first time the agency identified where the clinic will be located.

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The clinic’s opening was delayed by several factors, including the search for a site, personnel changes and construction, Wood said. The agency wanted the clinic to be accessible, she said. “In that sense, we’re like McDonald’s. We want to be where people can find us and get to us.”

Planned Parenthood hopes the new clinic will attract “a real mix of men and women in terms of age, income levels, cultural backgrounds,” Wood said.

News of the clinic opening prompted strong feelings from South Bay abortion rights opponents.

J. T. Finn, director of the South Bay Pro-Life Coalition, said he is dubious of Planned Parenthood’s announcement concerning abortion services.

“I don’t know if I believe that to be the case. They’re the masters of lies and deception,” Finn said. “This is going to be a tragic blood bath in the South Bay because of the promotion of abortion--whether they’re providing them in-house or referring them outside.”

Finn added: “This has been a victory, but it’s not the complete victory we had hoped for, which was that they would not be opening their doors in the South Bay.”

Operation Rescue will not be doing “rescues” or blockades at the clinic as long as abortions are not performed there, White said.

Some women’s health advocates, meanwhile, say they welcome Planned Parenthood to the South Bay.

“It’s going to be a big center, and it’s going to be well-run,” said Dr. Anita Nelson, medical director of the women’s health care clinic at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Suzanne Rivera, executive director of the South Bay Free Clinic, said her clinic already offers the same services available at the new clinic. Nonetheless, she said, “More access is always needed.”


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