The Portland Development Commission has OK'd a plan to build a Planned Parenthood headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The 4-1 vote came last week on April 11, after commissioners heard emotional testimony from both sides of the aisle.
Many members of the local Black community spoke out for and against the proposed site, which would offer a slew of health care services, including abortions – a fact that sparked controversy at last week's hearing.
The relocated Planned Parenthood headquarters – the local offices are currently based in Southeast Portland — will be located at the corner of Beech Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, next door to the Muslim Community Center and within walking distance of several churches – a fact that has caused opposition based on moral grounds.
Planned Parenthood Spokeswoman Nancy Bennett said 1.3 percent of the services provided at the current clinic on Northeast 16th Avenue and Fremont Street are abortion services.
While some in the faith community, including Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Matt Hennessee, support the clinic because it helps reduce sexually transmitted diseases and lower unintended pregnancy rates, others say they feel marginalized by the PDC's decision.
Muhammad Najieb, president of the Muslim Community Center, said his organization never had a chance to oppose the deal.
"We felt we were very ill-treated by the powers that be," Najieb said. "They slap us in the face and act like we don't exist."
Aside from opposing the abortion services offered by Planned Parenthood, Najieb said his organization also sees the group's sex education and distribution of condoms as promoting promiscuity. He believes schools need to promote abstinence education instead.
Although the Muslim Community Center already had planned to move their facility to another site on North Vancouver Avenue, Najieb said PDC's decision to sell the MLK site to Planned Parenthood has prompted his organization to move to North Vancouver sooner rather than later.
Among the most outspoken critics of the Planned Parenthood move were those who accused the group of purposefully wanting to kill Black babies. Mary Starrett, the White executive director of Oregonians for Life, who once mocked former Portland Police Chief Charles Moose for having "a thing about his skin color" – Moose, of course, is African American — and of "cashing in on racial 'hush' money," said the number of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood amounted to "Black genocide."
According to figures from Planned Parenthood, the Northeast Portland clinic, which will shut down and merge with the new MLK clinic, performed 195 abortions last year; of those, 12 — 6 percent — were performed on African American women. For family planning services, 9,909 patients were served and, of those, 975 — 10 percent — were African American women.
"I know there are some who object to all abortions and I respect that," Bennett, of Planned Parenthood, said. "But I think there are many more people in the community who strongly support our family planning work and are offended by some of the distortions that are being stated about Planned Parenthood."
Dr. W.G. Hardy, a local Black pastor, takes a more balanced approach on the Planned Parenthood debate. Speaking on behalf of the African American Alliance, the African American Chamber of Commerce, Albina Ministerial Alliance and the African American Health Coalition, Hardy said many in the community needed more time to make an informed decision about the project.
"I felt like the deal was already done," he said.
So what is the opinion of these community leaders?
"They're still out on that," said Hardy, adding that many African Americans are wary of an organization that was started by a woman who advocated eugenics, a movement which discouraged lower classes from breeding.
Hardy said the divisive nature of abortion has also clouded a good debate about Planned Parenthood's wants and needs in the community. For Hardy, who has not revealed his position on abortion, the issue is larger than the anti- or pro-choice debate.
"I've seen ladies whose lives have turned around (after a child)," he said. "I've also seen scars remain (after an abortion) … I've also seen those that really needed an abortion."
Joice Taylor, director of the North/Northeast Business Association, said Planned Parenthood made a good effort to address the economic needs of a community and the moral concerns. While Taylor does believe in the right to choose, she respects the opinions of opponents. She says the relocation of the Northeast clinic and Southeast headquarters will have a ripple effect on the MLK corridor.
"MLK is our major artery," she said. "We feel it would be a benefit to small business."
Aside from providing reproductive health services to sexually active individuals, the organization will bring 100 jobs – two thirds qualify as quality wage or higher – and adding another 40 jobs within a short period of time. The building also will provide between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet of retail space.
With more than 100 workers, as well as hundreds of women visiting the clinic for services ranging from pap smears and birth control to family planning services and abortion, the clinic would bring people into an area they might not normally travel.
Another longtime African American businessman on the boulevard, Geneva's Shear Perfection owner Paul Knauls Sr. said he supported the development for economic reasons.
"I feel MLK development has been too long coming," he said. "Just like people thought I shouldn't open up on MLK, there will always be people who oppose developments."