(AP/Beck Diefenbach)

The right's sneaky antiabortion plot: Using obscure property regulations to close providers

Community restrictions target abortion care. Landlords evict providers. It's sneaky, and it's happening all over


Katie McDonough
August 14, 2014 10:17PM (UTC)

An obscure property regulation could be the reason a Planned Parenthood in Florida may not be able to provide abortion care, ultrasounds and other services. As reported by David Breen at the Orlando Sentinel, a judge has issued a temporary injunction to prevent the Kissimmee clinic from providing its full range of services after a lawsuit alleged these procedures violated deed restrictions on the property. The clinic is still able to provide STI tests, prescribe birth control and other services, but the fate of abortion and other care remains to be seen.

From the Sentinel:

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In the injunction, Circuit Judge John Jordan found there was a "substantial likelihood of proving" that Planned Parenthood, by performing abortions, is in violation of the outpatient-surgical-center provision, and, by performing ultrasounds, is in violation of the diagnostic-imaging provision.

He rejected contentions made by the plaintiffs that administration of the morning-after pill constitutes an emergency medical procedure, and that abortions are "obnoxious to or out of harmony with" other practices at the site.

Planned Parenthood has stressed in its response to the injunction that it is a medical office, not a diagnostic imaging center or an outpatient surgical center, as alleged in the suit. "Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando's services do not violate any of the restrictions in Oak Commons," Anna V. Eskamani, director of external affairs at Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, told Salon. "A lengthy due diligence process concluded that Planned Parenthood's services are not in violation of any restrictions on the property. Planned Parenthood is a medical office, staffed by highly trained doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers, similar to many others currently operating in Oak Commons."

But Planned Parenthood's presence in the Kissimmee medical park was met with resistance from the start, including from neighboring physicians.

“You can look out the windows of labor and delivery and you can see women walking into and out of an abortion clinic,” Dr. John Littell, a family physician who protested the opening of the clinic, told WKMG. “It specifically states that no one should come in here and open a surgical center, perform surgical procedures, without the permission from the rest of the folks in here.”

This isn't the first time community pressure to target a clinic has resulted in a reduction of services or the outright closure of a provider. Earlier this month, the Catholic Church purchased the building that housed the only freestanding abortion provider in Lansing, Michigan. It plans to evict the clinic come October.

According to a report from MLive, the Diocese said in a press release that it had reached an agreement with the building's owner that would “ultimately put an end to business for WomanCare clinic by Oct. 1, 2014.”

The Church of the Resurrection intends to turn the space into church offices and will lease part of the building to an anti-choice group. The Womancare clinic has two months to find a new space, or the state capital will lose its only abortion provider. Father Steve Mattson, the pastor of the church, said that taking over the building and evicting the clinic, "Will allow us to both meet the needs of our parishioners and to affirm our comprehensive pro-life commitment to men and women in greatest need."

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This is part of a long pattern of such targeting. While state-level efforts to shutter clinics and ban the procedure have received national attention, local efforts to use land use restrictions and real estate transactions to shutter providers can pose an equal threat to access. An anti-choice group in Tennessee in 1993 purchased a Chattanooga clinic, evicted it and turned the space into a crisis pregnancy center. In 1996, a landlord on Long Island, New York tried to evict an abortion provider from his property, but the move was blocked in court. In 2000, anti-choice activists in Nebraska combined forces to purchase the building that housed a clinic in an effort to evict the provider.

Planned Parenthood plans to appeal the inunction, according to Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando CEO Jenna Tosh. "This lawsuit was just another attempt by opponents of women’s health to prevent Osceola County women from accessing reproductive health care services at Planned Parenthood," she said in a statement. "Last week, we began our legal action to assure that patients at our new Kissimmee Health Center will have access to a full range of reproductive health services. We will pursue all legal means necessary to have this injunction lifted and we will continue to do everything we can to protect women's access to care."

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Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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