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SANCTITY OF LIFE: Pro-lifers to pray at what could be nation’s largest abortion clinic

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sunday, Jan. 17, is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life advocates will gather Sunday and Monday in Houston, Texas, to pray at the location of what they say will soon be the largest abortion clinic in the country.

Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas is planning to move into a six-story, 78,000-square-foot building this spring. The former bank building, which is undergoing a major renovation, will include a “surgical suite,” as Planned Parenthood describes it, for abortions.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s network of affiliates performed more than 305,000 abortions in 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, making the national organization the No. 1 abortion provider in the United States.

Participants in the Houston prayer events, which are sponsored by the prayer-and-fasting movement TheCall, are expected to include Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council; Sammy Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Harry Jackson, a pastor and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition; Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, and Lou Engle, co-founder of the sponsoring organization.

Houston pro-life leader Christine Melchor said she is hoping for “a miracle,” even at this late date, nearly four years after Planned Parenthood purchased the building.

Houston “does not want the notoriety of being the abortion capital” of the United States, said Melchor, director of the Houston Coalition for Life, which coordinates prayer and sidewalk counseling outside Planned Parenthood clinics.

While some pro-lifers have described the new facility as an “abortion super center” and the largest abortion clinic in the Western Hemisphere, Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas rejects the description. On its website, Planned Parenthood calls its future home “the largest Planned Parenthood administrative and health care facility in the nation.”

The Houston facility will be the pinnacle, so far, of a recent trend by Planned Parenthood toward large, multi-purpose buildings that include abortion services. The largest previous Planned Parenthood facility is a 52,000-square-foot center opened in Denver, Colo., in 2008, Melchor told Baptist Press.

In a question-and-answer format, the Planned Parenthood affiliate describes several services its new Houston facility will provide and denies it will do late-term abortions, another charge by pro-lifers. “We plan to provide abortions up to 20 weeks,” it says in its Q&A.

Melchor, however, doubts that claim and believes she has evidence to support her doubts. Planned Parenthood is primarily moving to a new building in order to house an ambulatory surgical center to do late-term abortions, she said.

The Texas Legislature passed a 2004 law that required abortions after 16 weeks into pregnancy to be done in ambulatory surgical centers, Melchor said. That requirement prevents current Planned Parenthood clinics in Houston from performing abortions after 16 weeks, because none has an ambulatory surgical center.

That limitation has hurt the organization’s business, she said, adding, “We know they are struggling financially.”

With an ambulatory surgical center, however, Planned Parenthood will be able to perform abortions legally through 25 weeks.

“We have no reason to believe that they will not provide abortions through 25 weeks,” Melchor said. She believes Planned Parenthood will not do abortions that late at the start of its time in the new facility but will gradually move to performing them up to 25 weeks.

Prematurely born babies have been known to survive as early as 22 weeks into pregnancy.

Pro-lifers have criticized Planned Parenthood for choosing a location near minority populations and university campuses. The new building on Gulf Freeway is at the juncture of four “super neighborhoods,” pro-lifers say. Three of those neighborhoods are predominantly Hispanic, and the fourth is primarily African American, they say.

While it seems to deny in its website Q&A it is “targeting students and minorities,” Planned Parenthood acknowledges its new facility is “right next to the University of Houston main campus and near Texas Southern University.”

To Melchor, it is another example of the organization following in the footsteps of its eugenicist founder, Margaret Sanger. “[T]hey, on purpose, target minorities,” she said.

Planned Parenthood has been the subject of a series of embarrassing revelations in recent years.

An undercover investigation led by college students that began in 2008 showed Planned Parenthood staff members circumventing the law. Employees at seven PPFA affiliates in five states –- Alabama, Arizona, California, Indiana and Tennessee — were caught on video seeking to cover up alleged child sexual abuse. Lila Rose, a UCLA student and president of Live Action, led the hidden-camera operation by posing as a minor with an adult boyfriend by whom she supposedly is pregnant.

In a different undercover investigation by Live Action, Planned Parenthood workers in seven states were caught on audio tape agreeing to receive donations designated for abortions of African-American babies.

In October, Abby Johnson made national news when she quit her job as director of the Planned Parenthood center in Bryan, Texas. Johnson said her sudden resignation and conversion to the pro-life cause came after she witnessed an abortion via ultrasound and received continuous pressure to generate more abortions and thereby more revenue.

Despite the reports, public funding continues to flow to Planned Parenthood. It received about $350 million in government grants and contracts in 2008.

The Houston pro-life events will include a four-hour prayer meeting beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday at a Houston church. On Monday, the federal holiday honoring the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., there will be a silent prayer walk beginning at 9:30 a.m. to the new Planned Parenthood facility. Information on the events is available at www.thecall.com.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.