Planned Parenthood has resumed work on a controversial new clinic in New Orleans, eight months after pressure from the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and anti-abortion protesters shut down construction.
Planned Parenthood expected to have the clinic open for business by now, but only the bare foundation has been laid so far after the archdiocese succeeded in scaring away numerous contractors by threatening to bar them from any church projects.
Meanwhile, the anti-abortion group Louisiana Right to Life has organized protests at the South Claiborne Avenue site, and other abortion opponents have pressured contractors directly. About 50 opponents spent an hour at the site Saturday, waving signs, praying and chanting. Bishop Otis Kenner of Kingdom Growth Fellowship of United Churches encouraged the workers to quit the job.
On Friday, two anti-abortion pastors went to the home of the owner of Absolute Concrete Solutions, the New Orleans company they believe is planning to pour the concrete next week, to ask that he withdraw from the project.
“I warned him that it was not worth it,” Bill Shanks, a pastor with the New Covenant Fellowship, a nondenominational church in New Orleans, said in an interview. “I told him that God hates hands that shed innocent blood. God hates this project.”
Shanks identified the owner as Melvin Backes. Messages left at his business and home went unanswered Friday.
A person involved with the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said threats have caused four concrete companies to shy away from working on it.
“The church pressure has cost millions,” he said of a project originally slated to cost $4.2 million for an 8,000-square-foot clinic.
The resumption of work comes at a time when the clinic is in legal limbo because — apart from the construction issues — the Jindal administration in January denied Planned Parenthood the operating license it will need to open.
Planned Parenthood said the clinic would fill an unmet need of 2,844 abortions per year in New Orleans and surrounding parishes — a claim rejected by Jindal’s Department of Health and Hospitals without explanation.
Planned Parenthood officials announced earlier this month that they would appeal that decision and vowed that the clinic will open. They noted that the clinic would provide a variety of services for women, including Pap tests, clinical breast exams and tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Planned Parenthood operates a smaller facility on Magazine Street that does not perform abortions.
So to open the new clinic, the group must overcome the construction roadblocks created by the archdiocese and anti-abortion forces and must overturn the decision by the Department of Health and Hospitals.
“The continuing intimidation and bullying tactics may be new to our New Orleans community, but they are not new to Planned Parenthood,” Melaney Linton, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a written statement. “Health center projects in other communities have endured and overcome this kind of harassment. Ultimately, they opened their doors and began providing health care to women and men who trust and rely on Planned Parenthood.”
At the groundbreaking ceremony in May 2013, Planned Parenthood officials predicted the clinic would open in late 2014. A sign posted at the site later put the date as “early 2015.”
The New Orleans area — which had 10 abortion clinics 25 years ago, according to Shanks — currently has one in New Orleans and another in Metairie.
Anti-abortion forces quickly went to work to ensure that metro New Orleans did not get a third one.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond went public with the archdiocese’s opposition in January 2014 via an open letter published in the church’s Clarion Herald newspaper.
“The archdiocese is obliged to remind every person and organization involved in the acquisition, preparation and construction of this or any abortion facility that they are cooperating with the evil that will take place there,” Aymond wrote. “For this reason, the archdiocese, including its churches, schools, apartments for the elderly and nursing homes, will strive in its privately funded work not to enter into business relationships with any person or organization that participates in actions that are essential to making this abortion facility a reality.”
An archdiocese spokeswoman said the archbishop would not comment beyond the letter.
The archdiocese has sent out other letters. Andre Villere Jr., the archdiocese’s director of building, sent a June 2014 letter to F.H. Myers Construction Corp. to advise the Harahan-based company of the church’s belief that Planned Parenthood was trying to hide the role of abortions by calling it a “medical office building.”
“We ask you, through your industry contacts, to notify subcontractors, suppliers, equipment companies, etc. of this ruse in order to prevent those who share our concerns for the unborn from facilitating abortions in our community,” Villere wrote.
F.H. Myers did not respond to a request for an interview.