Builder pulls out of Planned Parenthood project


A construction company set to help build a Planned Parenthood clinic in northeast Portland has dropped the project, citing pressure from anti-abortion activists.

The developer, Beech Street Partners, has assembled a team of builders and will act as its own general contractor.

A team member, Walsh Construction Co. owner Bob Walsh, said he was approached two years ago to build a medical clinic. But when Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette signed on as the anchor tenant, Walsh said, he called other builders who had dealt with aggressive anti-abortion activists. He was told that protesters had gone as far as staking out contractors' homes.

"It's disruptive and very threatening," he told The Oregonian. "I just didn't want to put my family through that."

Walsh said his decision was not based on moral judgment.

Others involved in the project said abortion foes have sent e-mails and letters, made phone calls and protested in front of their offices since the Portland Development Commission approved the $900,000 sale of the city-owned property in April 2007.

James Adamson, a Beech Street associate, said protesters have the right to voice their opinion. "And we also have fair protection under the law," he said. "It's basically a big exercise of free speech."

Building designer Kip Richardson, of Ankrom Moisan Architects, said he's stayed with the project despite the protests because Adamson is a long-term client who's developing an area where the city has had trouble attracting investment.

"He's really trying to do the right thing and improve that neighborhood," Richardson said.

Completion is set for July 2009. Planned Parenthood will use the space for both medical clinics and its regional headquarters and will bring an estimated 140 jobs to the neighborhood.

The nonprofit provides sexual and reproductive health care to women, men and teens. According to its annual report, only about — percent of its clients seek abortions.

Bill Diss, a protest organizer, said the effort is intended to remind businesses involved in the construction who their employers are.

He called Planned Parenthood a "killing center" that targets young girls, teaching them about sex and masturbation, which he called "the gateway drug to lust."

"They're up in North Portland targeting young black girls to get them into a life of sex," said Diss, a science teacher at Portland's Benson High.

Racial politics arose last year when the PDC was deciding whether to sell the land. Some community members objected to an abortion clinic on a street named after civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Planned Parenthood officials say they already have a clinic in Northeast Portland and that the new one would simply let them consolidate their work.

Charles Wilhoite, the Portland Development Commission's only African American member and who voted to approve the sale of the land, said the organization provides much needed reproductive education to the African American community.

"There is an objectionable part of it from the abortion aspect, but from my perspective I see too many kids having kids," Wilhoite said. "Education is the answer. Abstinence programs, from what I'm reading, aren't working. Things are getting worse."

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