A little corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is quickly becoming ground zero in the fight over abortion rights in Portland.
Last Thursday afternoon, as most Portlanders made their way home from work and school, Nina Rhea and Jen Laverdure faced off on MLK Boulevard and Northeast Beech Street, where a parcel of land owned by the Portland Development Commission is slated to become a Planned Parenthood clinic and staff headquarters.
Rhea's group, Precious Children of Portland, have protested at the site for the last couple months, waiving anti-abortion signs and displaying posters of lifeless, bloody fetuses.
They say Planned Parenthood's abortion services "kills babies" and that the clinics' safe-sex campaign promotes promiscuity.
Laverdure is an organizer for Direct Action Reproductive Rights Coalition, which supports Planned Parenthood.
She said her group staged a counter-protest to show Portlanders that "right wingers can't set the agenda for what happens in our town."
"The clinic is going to happen," Laverdure said of the proposed Planned Parenthood. "(And) I find it interesting that they're picketing an empty lot (since) the clinic is already in the neighborhood."
Planned Parenthood has a Northeast Portland clinic that performs abortions off Fremont Street and 15th Avenue, about seven blocks from the new MLK site.
Asked why they were protesting the MLK site, but not the Fremont clinic, some in the anti-abortion camp said they didn't realize the Fremont clinic existed.
Rhea said she was confident that their protests would stop the facility from being constructed, citing the support they received from Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece, Alveda King, who said during a speech this year in Portland that her uncle would not have wanted an abortion clinic on a street named in his honor. She also said advocates had successfully stopped Planned Parenthood from relocating to MLK Boulevard in 1987 and they could do it again.
Rhea said Planned Parenthood "reduces babies and children to commodities" and that her group didn't want to see that happen in the center of Portland's traditionally Black community.
"We are going to stop them," Rhea said.
Laverdure said that, without a counter voice, there is a possibility that the proponents of the clinic could prevent the clinic's construction, but that she believes "the clinic is going to happen."
Sara King, with the PDC, agrees.
"I can't think of a legal way (the development) can be stopped," King said.
The PDC Commission approved the agreement with Planned Parenthood 4-1 in April. A final design concept must be shown to the nearby neighborhood association and approved by the PDC commission and the city. The developers, Beech Street Partners, also need to get the proper building permits from the city. None of the approvals from now until the anticipated construction start date of January 2008 deal with the services provided by Planned Parenthood, said King.
Nancy Bennett, a spokeswoman with Planned Parenthood, said the nonprofit plans to continue with its building on MLK despite the protests.
"It would be a disservice to women if we backed away," Bennett said.
Thursday's protest drew about 20 people from each side and the groups were peaceful – even if passersby were not.
Rhea said some drivers have yelled expletives at the anti-choice group, which includes young children – many of whom were holding visually explicit photos of chopped-up fetuses – and that one driver threw a full take-out container of Chinese food at the anti-abortion protestors.
Rhea's group won't let that stop them, though. They say the city's leaders have failed them and they won't stop until Planned Parenthood reverses its decision to relocate its southeast Portland headquarters and Fremont clinic to this corner of MLK Boulevard.
"We're just finishing the job the PDC failed on," said anti-abortion protestor Larry Davis.