- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said its recent decision to close two southern Iowa facilities was financially driven and wasn’t influenced by the efforts of abortion rights opponents who regularly protest outside those locations and others.

The Iowa-based affiliate, which also serves Arkansas, Nebraska and eastern Oklahoma, will close facilities in the communities of Red Oak and Creston effective June 18, after officials determined the centers each averaged about one patient per month.

“It’s a fiscal efficiency issue,” said spokeswoman Angie Remington. “Sending clinicians to those clinics was more costly than the amount of income coming in from those clinics.”

The closings mean Red Oak patients will need to drive about 50 miles northwest to Council Bluffs to seek Planned Parenthood services. Creston patients will drive about 70 miles northeast to Des Moines. However, patients can still receive birth control through a mail order program.

“It’s just shifting the resources to where they’re being utilized by the patient is really all there is to it,” she said.

The announcement comes around the time Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, the affiliate based in Oregon, announced plans to close three facilities in the region and reduce staff.

Amanda Harrington, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said affiliates operate independently from the national group and that there was no directive to close facilities, noting also that affiliates also open new centers.

“While our services in Iowa are going through some change right now, Planned Parenthood has been providing quality health care for women, men and teens at nearly 700 non-profit health centers located all across the United States and that will never change,” Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the national group, said in a statement.

Melissa Fowler, a spokeswoman for the National Abortion Federation in Washington, D.C., said the group works to support abortion providers in parts of the Midwest and South where access is a “real barrier for women.”

“Still, facilities that provide abortion care face a number of economic challenges, which account for these closings,” she said in an email.

Anti-abortion advocates cheered the news of the Iowa closings. Martin Cannon is an attorney for Thomas More Society, a national law firm that defends First Amendment rights for people stationed outside Planned Parenthood clinics. He said he believes his recent work with protesters in Red Oak influenced the decision to close the location.

“I can tell you from experience that over years and years of dealing with this stuff that that’s malarkey,” he said. “The sidewalk counselors and the prayer vigils and these assemblies of the loveliest, most peaceful decent people in the world that tend to exist in front of these clinics has a huge impact on their business. And if they weren’t there, those businesses would be brisk and they wouldn’t be closing clinics.”

Remington, however, denied any connection.

“In no way was the decision influenced by the efforts of anyone who opposes Planned Parenthood or a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions,” she said.

The Iowa facilities had offered telemedicine abortions, a practice allowing patients to communicate with a doctor in another location via video in order to receive medication that induces an abortion. The issue is a contested one in Iowa after the state’s medical board banned it. Planned Parenthood has sued to overturn the decision, and a stay is in place that allows the procedure to continue in several other locations in Iowa.

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