Protesters are calling it an abortion supercenter: a 78,000-square-foot building just south of Houston that’s shaped like a cash register and has a surgical wing on the third floor for second-trimester abortions.
Located off Interstate 45 just outside the main gate of the University of Houston and barely a mile from Texas Southern University, the new six-story headquarters for Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas opens in early April.
Protestant and Catholic clergy and potentially thousands of protesters are converging on it Monday.
“On Martin Luther King’s holiday, we want black Americans and Hispanics to raise their voices and say we’re not for this in our neighborhood,” said rally organizer Lou Engle, founder of the Kansas City, Mo.-based TheCall, which gathers Christians to pray and fast for America.
“We’re meeting with networks of Hispanic pastors who are saying they are not wanting this in their neighborhood. I just spoke with 30 black pastors today who are standing with us on this.”
What Planned Parenthood is calling its “flagship” headquarters at 4600 Gulf Freeway lies at the intersection of four Hispanic and black neighborhoods — the two demographics that have the country’s largest percentage of abortions.
“Planned Parenthood promoting abortion in the minority community is a massive form of genocide,” said Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md. “On Martin Luther King Jr.’s day, we’re there to say although things have gotten better for blacks across the country, their fundamental right to life is not being honored by the abortion industry.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which compiles reproductive health statistics, one out of three black pregnancies is aborted, which is twice the Hispanic rate of abortions and five times the white abortion rate.
Bishop Jackson is one of several religious leaders flying to Houston to protest the construction of Planned Parenthood’s largest facility in the country.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla said that about 93 percent of its services will be family planning, birth control and preventive health care, hence the name “Prevention Park” for the new locale.
Seven percent of its business is generated from abortions, including the 8,200 abortions it performed in 2009 at its current facility on Fannin Street just south of downtown Houston. The majority of business, she said, comes from 20-something women, thus its new location near two universities.
“This is as centrally located as we could get in terms of finding the space we needed,” she said. “We were looking for something visible, centrally located and which provided a secure perimeter.”
When asked about the high percentages of blacks and Hispanics in the mostly low-income neighborhoods surrounding the new clinic, she said, “We know the racial makeup of that community as we do a lot of service there. In terms of whether we are targeting any kind of community, that is false. It is a minority community, but it is a community that does not have health care options.”
Twenty-six percent of the population — about 1 million people — in surrounding Harris County are uninsured, she added.
A sore point among opponents is the clinic’s ambulatory surgical unit, which Texas law requires for abortions up to 26 weeks of gestation. Planned Parenthood’s current clinic can perform abortions only up through the 15th week. Ms. Tafolla said the new clinic will allow abortions only up to 20 weeks, but her detractors say that restriction will not last.
“In Texas, abortions are legal through the 25th week, so there’s no reason to believe they will not do them up until that time,” said Christine Melchor, executive director of Houston Coalition for Life. “Houston will be the abortion capital of the southern part of the country and South America. We already see people from South America at their current facility on Fannin.”
Protesters rallied Sunday night at the nearby Grace Community Church and are slated to march Monday to the Planned Parenthood construction site from the Catholic Charismatic Center a few blocks away.
“This could be the largest abortion clinic in the world,” said the Rev. Michael Scherrey, who is marshaling 1,000 members of the Catholic Charismatic Center to demonstrate.
Out-of-town activists attending the rally include Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Richard Land of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
However, inquiries of some of the city’s top religious leaders — Catholic Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Rev. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church (the nation’s largest congregation) and the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church (who once advised President George W. Bush) — revealed that none of them plans to be at the rally. A spokeswoman for Mr. Caldwell said the event has not been heavily publicized around Houston.
However, a Jan. 7 Houston Chronicle blog post on the rally got 187 responses.
“I am heartbroken and embarassed for my city,” wrote one. “I will be there on the 18th to let my voice be heard.”
“Planned Parenthood is awesome,” wrote another. “Thank God for them and all the great things they do.”