Planned Parenthood opening met with protest (C and G News)

Published April 2, 2012, by C and G News.

By Jeremy Selweski, C & G Staff Writer.

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Published: 04.02.12| Updated: 04.04.12

A new Planned Parenthood clinic is the latest addition to Ferndale, and local officials are welcoming the organization with open arms, even if some protesters aren’t.

The clinic opened its doors on April 2 in the former PrimeCare building at 23338 Woodward Ave. In the early afternoon hours of day one, a couple dozen protesters from Citizens for a Pro-Life Society picketed the Ferndale clinic, which actually doesn’t offer abortions.

The Ferndale location is the only Planned Parenthood clinic in Oakland County, a fact that serves as a point of pride for Mayor Dave Coulter and others, who said they wouldn’t be surprised by some protesting and were OK with it.

“The bottom line is that this is a legitimate and needed service in this area,” Coulter said. “We are certainly happy to have them here in Ferndale. The vast majority of their clients are uninsured, so I believe they will fill a very important role in our community.”

City Councilwoman Melanie Piana agreed. “Our residents understand the importance of having access to good quality health care,” she said. “I think this is a fantastic addition to our community, and I’m just really glad that women will have another option to turn to for these types of services.”

In addition, Piana believes that Planned Parenthood will prove to be “a great complement” to the FernCare Free Clinic, which opened its own permanent facility last October at 459 E. Nine Mile Road. Planned Parenthood should be able to fill in some gaps, she said, as FernCare does not handle sexually transmitted diseases or offer any obstetric work for its patients.

Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of reproductive health services in the U.S. With more than 820 locations nationwide that serve more than four million people each year, Planned Parenthood offers a variety of free health screenings, tests and programs for women, men and children.

According to Lori Lamerand, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan, the Ferndale clinic will provide services such as cancer screenings, gynecology care and sexually transmitted disease tests, as well as birth control, counseling and health education programs. However, Lamerand said, there will be no abortions performed at the site.

“We’ve wanted to have an Oakland County site for a long time,” Lamerand told the City Council at its March 26 meeting. “The need is dramatic, so we’re really happy to be here. Ferndale has always welcomed and taken care of its citizens, and I hope that we will be part of that fabric and make sure that people can get what they need.”

Lamerand pointed out that Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan currently sees more than 5,000 Oakland County patients per year at its other health centers. The Ferndale clinic will be its 17th location, and these facilities will collectively serve an estimated 69,000 people between Detroit and Benton Harbor over the next year.

“We are very, very appreciative of the warm welcome that we seem to be getting (in Ferndale),” Lamerand said. “Not every place in Oakland County has had that attitude, so we’re just thrilled to be here. … It really feels like we’ve come home.”

Planned Parenthood previously had a clinic in Southfield, but it closed down several years ago after a number of facilities merged and other new ones opened up. The organization also purchased a building in Auburn Hills in 2010, but opposition from local business owners and a pro-life activist group has prevented the clinic from moving forward as planned, and it currently remains tied up in court battles.

But Planned Parenthood’s support at the local level remains strong. Oakland County Commissioner Craig Covey, D-Ferndale, has been a fervent advocate of the group “for decades” and even served as a volunteer consultant for Lamerand and others as they planned to open the Ferndale location.

“I think they’re a great organization that’s going to bring many valuable services to our town, and I’m very pleased that they’re here,” he said. “Planned Parenthood has needed a clinic in southeast Michigan for a while now.”

According to Covey, Oakland County has the second-largest number of low-income women without health insurance of any county in Michigan. He also noted that more than half of all Michigan pregnancies are unplanned, and two-thirds of those births are then publicly funded, costing state taxpayers about $282 million annually. In addition, he said, despite the controversial reputation that Planned Parenthood has acquired thanks to “religious ultra-conservatives,” roughly 97 percent of all its services are screenings, tests, treatments and counseling completely unrelated to abortion.

Aside from the small group of protesters on April 2, Covey is confident that the facility will be embraced by the local community. A few days before the protests, he predicted that any public backlash against Planned Parenthood would most likely come from people outside the city.

“We’re a very open-minded, progressive town that is supportive of women’s reproductive health,” Covey said. “I’m not at all concerned about the reaction from Ferndale residents. If we do get some right-to-life protesters coming down here, then we’ll welcome them in. And afterwards, we’ll invite them to go out to eat at one of our nice restaurants or go shopping downtown.”

Coulter was similarly at ease, pointing out that these kinds of public demonstrations are nothing new for Ferndale. “We encounter protests on a regular basis here,” he said, “so we know how to handle them while still respecting people’s First Amendment rights. Folks have every right to lawfully protest if they want, and we will allow them to exercise their freedom of speech.”

The Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the new branch on April 3.

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