Judge: Planned Parenthood can build Auburn Hills clinic (Detroit Free Press)

Published on January 11, 2012 by Detroit Free Press.

By Megha Satyanarayana, Detroit Free Press Writer.

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Published: 01.11.12| Updated: 01.11.12

An Oakland County judge upheld Planned Parenthood's right Tuesday to build a clinic in Auburn Hills, thwarting a yearlong fight by abortion opponents to stop the organization from moving into the county.

At the hearing, Circuit Judge James Alexander said lawyers representing those opposed to Planned Parenthood failed to show how the clinic, set for a business-zoned area of Opdyke Road, would violate restrictions set forth when the land was split for sale more than a decade ago.

He scolded lawyers representing the opponents for arguing on the assumption that the clinic would provide abortion services, when local Planned Parenthood officials have said repeatedly that they may not.

"Let me stop this right now," said Alexander, as attorney James Carey referred to the clinic as "an abortion clinic" in the beginning of his arguments. "This is not an abortion case. This is a property case."

Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan CEO Lori Lamerand said the organization bought the property in 2010 after finding that 5,400 Oakland County residents were going to other Planned Parenthood clinics and learning that federal funds were available for family planning for low-income people.

"It's a wonderful thing, primarily not for Planned Parenthood, but for the women who need health care in Oakland County," she said.

Federal funds and Medicaid do not pay for abortions. In 2010, nearly half the 124,000 visits to Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan's 15 clinics included Pap smears and STD testing. After a merger with another Planned Parenthood affiliate last month, it has 17 clinics; four provide abortions.

At issue in the suit was the interpretation of an agreement hashed out in 1998 between the owners of a piece of land on Opdyke Road and the Shri Sai-Krishna Group, which wanted to buy half the land for a hotel. As part of the purchase agreement, the previous landowner and Shri Sai-Krishna representatives agreed on a restrictive covenant on the unsold half, limiting its use to a restaurant, retail space or office.

When Planned Parenthood inquired about the land, its lawyers asked Shri Sai-Krishna Group in a letter whether they felt a medical office fell under the restrictions.

Shri Sai-Krishna principals said it did, and Planned Parenthood purchased the property.

Abortion foes, led by Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, said the owners of the Comfort Inn didn't know they were dealing with Planned Parenthood and would not have agreed to the use of the property for a Planned Parenthood clinic had they known. They have funded the legal fight challenging Planned Parenthood's use of the land.

Planned Parenthood filed suit to force a judge to decide.

Carey had argued in previous hearings that a Planned Parenthood clinic that provides abortions would fall under a different set of rules and regulations under state law. He said a surgical facility would not be a medical office because of the different regulations, and thus would be barred by the covenant.

Alexander said Carey did not support those claims.

Monica Miller, head of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, said she expects to appeal.

"The place is going to get shut down," she said.

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