Down in Little Canada, nestled in the cranny behind a McDonald’s restaurant just off Highway 36, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota quietly opened the doors of a new clinic that will provide cancer screenings and pap smears, HPV vaccinations, breast exams and birth control.
Over the next year, about 8,000 women who rely on Planned Parenthood as their main source of healthcare will pass through the doors. Many of them will step straight off the bus at Rice Street and Minnesota Avenue. Some will ride down from nearby Century College. For residents of the immediate neighborhood, where 70 percent of people need some sort of low-income support for healthcare, the clinic's opening means shorter lines for basic services.
Octogenarians Ray and Le Schreurs normally volunteer their time fighting through crowds of anti-abortion protesters to escort patients to their doctors. Le leads the way; Ray, who has a harder time controlling his anger, follows behind.
"They'd yell things like, 'Old man, you're going to die pretty soon. What are you going to say to St. Peter when you get up there?'" Ray recalls. He'd wear headphones to tune out the prayer bead-brandishing agitators, mostly hired help working for local ministers. The majority of the patients they'd escort up to the clinic don't even need abortions, he points out. But even when it comes to the three percent who do, "They have no idea what goes on inside a woman if she makes the choice for abortion."
The Rice Street clinic won't perform abortions.
Hanna Hockberger, Sydney Spreck and Sarah Legried are all Planned Parenthood patients. Aged 19-21, they're armed to the teeth with birth control — IUDs in the uterus, implants in the arms. With sex education in schools often leaving much to the imagination, the women turned to Planned Parenthood for pregnancy prevention measures beyond abstinence and condoms.
Spreck, who recently graduated from Stillwater High School, says her relatively wealthy, conservative community provided her with a fairly mediocre sex ed experience. "If somebody got pregnant, they would just disappear from school and then nobody would know," she says. "You're left to wonder, 'Did they get pregnant? Did they go to rehab?'"
With her local family doctor, she felt like she had to make up some excuse just to go on the pill, like claiming to be depressed. She needed the pill to regulate her hormones, she said, when she just didn't want to get pregnant with a child she couldn't possibly raise.
In the midst of a fiery political battle over public funding for Planned Parenthood, CEO Sarah Stoesz made a cursory nod to the highly edited hidden video footage released by the anti-abortion rights group Center for Medical Progress. On the abortion debate, she alluded only to the galvanizing turning point in Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger's career.
Back in 1916, Sanger was a nurse who paid an emergency midnight call to the home of Sadie Sachs, a poor mother who was bleeding to death from a self-induced abortion because she could not feed another child. Sanger was able to help save Sachs that night, but in lieu of birth control, the woman became pregnant again. She died attempting abortion a second time, leaving her children to grow up without a mother.
"Here's what's effectively at the root of this issue. A federal program that paid for 1,400 patients in our former clinic to have their healthcare is being attacked," Stoesz said. "Every year 2.7 million women access healthcare only because of that program. That is what this political debate is about."