Planned Parenthood next year will close its Highland Park abortion clinic, a lightning rod for protesters for 30 years, and move those services to a new, larger clinic and headquarters in the Midway district near University Avenue.
The new location will offer easier access, greater privacy and more space at a time when demand is growing for such services as vasectomies, birth control and disease screenings, the organization said. Demand for abortions has been falling for years, officials said.
The Highland Park clinic is an outdated and inefficient space that cannot be expanded, said Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in Minnesota.
The Midway location is near Interstate 94, and a light-rail line scheduled to open in 2014.
The new, energy-efficient building -- which will have a large parking area, fences and greenery -- will provide more privacy for patients who now routinely have to walk past abortion foes who try to persuade them not to go into the clinic, Stoesz said.
Using $16 million it has quietly raised from private donors, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota is the first tenant to plant a stake in what is now a mostly industrial area one block north of University Avenue along Vandalia Avenue.
Despite the clinic's controversial history in Highland Park, Fourth Ward Council Member Russ Stark said it would be welcome in the new neighborhood. "It sounds like a great investment in the Central Corridor," said Stark, who represents the area. "It's the kind we've been planning on."
Abortion opponents, however, said they would continue to protest at the new site. "Wherever they are engaging in abortions, we'll be there," said Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro Life Action Ministries.
But in a commercial and industrial area, protesters may not have the same impact as they did in Highland Park, a largely residential area.
The clinic, on a commercial strip on Ford Parkway, has been the focus of massive demonstrations over the years, particularly on the anniversaries of Roe vs. Wade and Good Friday. It also has been fire-bombed and subjected to arson, including shortly after it opened in the mid-1970s, said Michael Mischke, publisher of the Villager, a neighborhood paper.
Today, the actions "are much toned down," he said, and complaints come from both sides of the debate. Some still object to the clinic. But others object to the graphic photos of aborted fetuses displayed by protesters.
Stoesz said Planned Parenthood is preparing for a possible increase in demand because of the new federal health care bill, which will add millions of people to insurance rolls starting in 2014. Many will be the lower-income and young adults that Planned Parenthood serves, she said. "We don't know exactly what health care reform will mean for our patients," she said. "But I anticipate that more people will access health care."
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state's leading voice against abortion, was sharply critical of the federal law because it would provide more funding for community clinics like those operated by Planned Parenthood, though not for abortion. The new law maintains the existing prohibition on federal spending for abortion.
Minnesota, however, is one of 17 states that pays for low-income women to receive abortions through Medicaid, the result of a 1995 decision by the state Supreme Court.
"We're not surprised to see Planned Parenthood position itself to receive millions more taxpayer dollars under President Obama's new health care mandates," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of MCCL.
In addition to moving its headquarters staff from its Uptown clinic in Minneapolis, Planned Parenthood will provide abortions and a full range of reproductive and family planning services to some of the 30,000 people it serves in the Twin Cities area. About 6 percent of them are men.
Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394