Fairbanks clinic to offer abortion services

Posted: Monday, March 03, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- For the first time in more than three years abortion is available in Fairbanks, with the opening of a Planned Parenthood of Alaska clinic.

But the clinic has drawn protests and a boycott.

Women from the Fairbanks area have had to travel out of town for the procedure since 1999 when the sole abortion provider retired.

''Women should have a right to a choice,'' said Patrick McNamara, office manager and health educator for Planned Parenthood.

''That's how the law is written. We are offering it (abortion) because there is a need for it in the community,'' McNamara told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Abortion opponents started to protest the clinic late last year with a letter-writing campaign and calls to the clinic's landlord and fellow tenants in The Northern Lights Medical Center on Airport Way, where the clinic is located. They've organized a boycott of all businesses in the medical center and have asked the landlord to break the clinic's lease.

They also brought to Alaska one of the nation's top Planned Parenthood opponents for speaking appearances. Since the beginning of February, anti-abortion activists have been picketing outside the medical center on weekdays at about noon. Ken Spiers, a member of Alaska Right To Life-Interior, said they don't plan to stop.

Pressure from opponents is why the Fairbanks Clinic stopped offering abortions in 1989 and why no other Fairbanks area doctors have done elective abortions since 1999.

''We want people to know the facts about Planned Parenthood,'' Spiers said. ''Their philosophy is anti-family.''

Private, in-state donations and a $250,000 grant from an anonymous Outside donor paid to establish the clinic. The clinic offers general reproductive health care for both men and women-gynecological exams, treatment for infections and procedures such as nonscalpel vasectomies. Fees, particularly for contraception, will be reduced or based on a sliding scale.

Abortion services make up about 5 percent of what the clinic will do, administrators say. They anticipate providing between 300 and 400 abortions a year, based on information from Fairbanks' former abortion provider and from providers in Anchorage who have been seeing Fairbanks patients.

On a sunny afternoon recently, Spiers stood outside the medical center holding a sign that read ''Abortion: Planned Parenthood's bread and butter.'' Two others joined him. The protests are organized mainly through local churches and Alaska Right To Life-Interior. Their goal is to raise public awareness about the clinic and gather so much opposition to it that it closes.

Spiers said the protests have ranged in size from two or three to as many as 60. Motorists driving by honked at the trio or gave them a thumbs up. Sometimes those who disagree with them honk, holler and flash a different finger, Spiers said. ''We try to ignore them or say something positive back.''

The businesses in the Northern Lights center don't seem to mind the protesters, but said the boycott is unfair.

''We're just tenants in the building,'' said Dr. Larry Harikian, director of occupational medicine at the Fairbanks Urgent Care Center. ''We have no say on who comes in and who doesn't come in.''

Harikian's clinic has received about 30 letters, some from patients. Most he keeps in a file on the advice of the police. Other than a few frightening phone calls, he said abortion opponents have been relatively polite and orderly.

None of the businesses in the center contacted by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner plans to move because of the clinic or the controversy surrounding it.

''It's a huge expense to move,'' said a Quest Diagnostics laboratory employee, who asked not to be identified. ''We haven't noticed any lost patients or anything like that.''

Legalized abortion supporters have come out as well. Pam Gajdos, owner of Image Optical, said she's heard from people on both sides of the abortion issue. Supporters have gone so far as to drop off checks at the Planned Parenthood clinic or bring flowers, said Dr. Nicole Fliss, Planned Parenthood physician.

''There is quiet support out there and we know it,'' she said.

McNamara thinks clinic opponents misunderstand the aim of Planned Parenthood, which is to educate people about reproductive health.

''They think we're saying, 'OK, you can have as much sex as you want and don't use protection. And if you get pregnant, just come back to us,''' he said. McNamara accepts the harassment as part of the job. Fliss said her family is worried but proud. ''It's exciting as a doctor to offer a service that is really needed,'' she said.

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