Almost forty years after abortion was legalized in the United States, controversy over the procedure remains relatively unchanged. Planned Parenthood, often seen as a standard-bearer for abortion rights, is looking to open new clinics in cities across Nebraska, but reaction runs the gamut; while some locals are up in arms, others are ready to lay out the welcome mat.
Steady traffic zooms along Highway 34 just west of Hastings, located in south central Nebraska. A billboard looms on the north side of the road, high-contrast black and white with a woman’s eyes staring out at drivers. Text on the left-hand side proclaims, “Something inside dies after an abortion.”
That billboard sits on Connie Consbruck’s lawn, perched among a flock of smaller placards. The president of South Central Nebraska Right to Life, Consbruck is emphatically against abortion – and, by extension, Planned Parenthood.
“There’s two clinics in Nebraska already, in Omaha and Lincoln. And we thought, that was enough, you know?” she said. “It’s just that you want to protect your children. You want them to get to heaven. And living a life of sexual sin isn’t going to get you to heaven.”
PLANNED PARENTHOOD DATA
- Three percent of Planned Parenthood's services are abortive (for Planned Parenthood in Nebraska, it's 2 percent). They also provide sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment; breast exams; contraception; sex education; and cancer screening and prevention.
- No hard figures have been released, but experts estimate abortion services make up 30 to 40 percent of health clinic revenue nationally, which would be about 13 percent of total Planned Parenthood revunue.
- Planned Parenthood of the Heartland currently operates clinics in Omaha and Lincoln.
PREGNANCY AND ABORTION DATA
- At current rates, about one in three American women will have had an abortion by age 45
- Fifty-eight percent of women having abortions are in their 20s; 61 percent have one or more children; 85 percent are unmarried; 69 percent are economically disadvantaged; 73 percent report a religious affiliation
- Fewer than 0.5 percent of women obtaining abortions experience a complication
- Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties had no abortion provider in 2008; for Nebraska, it was 97 percent, meaning 43 percent of Nebraska women lived in a county without an abortion provider.
- Sixty-six percent of pregnancies in 2008 resulted in live birth nationally, compared with 76 percent in Nebraska; 19 percent resulted in abortions, compared with 8 percent in Nebraska; and 15 percent in miscarriage compared with 16 percent
- The abortion rate per 1,000 women nationally was 19.6; in Nebraska, it was 8.1.
- Abortion rates nationally have fallen 52 percent from 1991 to 2008.
SOURCES: Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and U.S. Centers for Disease Control
Planned Parenthood’s services are not limited to abortion; they provide a variety of reproductive care on a sliding scale (see the box on the left for a breakdown of national and state statistics).
About a year and a half ago, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced it was looking to expand its operations in Nebraska. They operate clinics in Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.
Since that first announcement, however, they’ve been relatively quiet on the topic. The organization initially named Grand Island, Fremont, North Platte, Hastings, Norfolk and Kearney as locations for future clinics, but they now say nothing is set in stone.
“I think that those were larger population centers that had been identified across the state of Nebraska,” said Melissa Grant, director of business development for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “Those may logically make sense, but there’s no definitive point about where we would go. No formal research really has been done to determine where we would be.”
For now, Grant said, they’re focusing on raising the necessary funds for expansion as part of an $11.5 million capital campaign that began about two years ago. While Planned Parenthood quietly continues fundraising – they’re at $9.3 million so far – the chatter in potential locations for new clinics is perhaps just getting started.
Both Consbruck’s organization in Hastings and a pro-life group in North Platte have presented petitions to their respective city councils voicing their opposition to Planned Parenthood – the latter, Western Nebraska Community for Life, did so just last month. Member Peggy Orr said they collected more than 2,000 signatures.
“I guess my reaction was stunned indignation,” she said. “I don’t really think (Planned Parenthood) would be a benefit to our community at all.”
Western Nebraska Community for Life is a Christian organization, and Orr said abortion goes against their religion’s teachings.
“For our group, I think the ideal outcome would be that there would no longer be a Planned Parenthood operating within the state of Nebraska,” she said.
Back in Hastings, Dr. Todd Pankratz is also concerned about Planned Parenthood’s expansion, but for different reasons than Orr or Consbruck. Pankratz runs Hastings Family Planning Center, which caters to some of the same demographics as Planned Parenthood: minority, low-income, uninsured.
“My guess, if Planned Parenthood came to town, we’d have to close our doors. They have significantly more money; they have significantly more political clout,” he said. “And we just could not compete.”
Pankratz said the center offers many of the same services as Planned Parenthood, excluding abortion; if patients are interested in obtaining an abortion, Planned Parenthood is where he refers them.
In the almost 40 years since the historic U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, views have changed remarkably little: in 2011, as in 1975, 80 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal under all or certain circumstances, according to Gallup data. Perhaps illustrating many people’s conflicting feelings, however, Gallup also found 50 percent of Americans consider themselves “pro-life” while only 41 percent consider themselves “pro-choice.”
Mitchel Rickett, who works for the Union Pacific Railroad in North Platte, puts himself in the second category. He’s written numerous letters to the North Platte Telegraph supporting abortion rights, and said he would welcome a Planned Parenthood clinic to the city.
“My wife, when she had her daughter 33 years ago, she got help from Planned Parenthood at the time,” he said. “She got prenatal care … they helped her get WIC, they helped her finance the birth of the child and also helped her with birth control.”
He said he’s received threatening phone calls and hate mail because of his views.
“I think the trouble with North Platte is there’s too many religious people in this town that, for them, the whole issue is abortion,” he said. “They don’t see the other health issues … they just look at abortion, and for them that’s the end all, be all.”
Melissa Grant, director of business development for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland
It can be hard for women outside Nebraska’s urban areas to find the reproductive care they need, including basic contraception or even prenatal care. A federally qualified health center in Columbus, which provides reproductive care to vulnerable and underserved populations, has patients travel from more than 150 miles away to receive affordable care; Grant with Planned Parenthood said women travel to its clinics from across Nebraska, and even neighboring states.
Even though a 2011 poll found likely voters in Nebraska gave Planned Parenthood a 59 percent favorable rating, Grant said the organization has to move carefully.
“I know that as we reach out into rural communities and people have seen less and less access to a provider,” she said, “there may be more stigma for women and men wanting to have questions answered or get information about birth control and how to take care of their body.”
And controversial or not, Grant said, Planned Parenthood’s definition of care includes abortion.
“What we are doing is providing access to scientifically based, accurate information,” she said. “We are providing access to medical treatment – legal medical treatment.”
At the heart of it all, Pankratz from the Hastings Family Planning Center said, both pro-choice and pro-life groups want the same thing.
“We’re all on the same page. We want to decrease unwanted pregnancies, we want to decrease teen pregnancies,” he said. “We have to keep that in mind: what is the end goal? And we all have ideas to get there, it’s just that we’ve got to work with both groups to do that.”