Duluth's only abortion clinic braces for anti-abortion center to open across street

The Building for Women will soon have an unfriendly neighbor.

The Building for Women will soon have an unfriendly neighbor.

The corner of First Street and First Avenue in downtown Duluth will soon be the frontline of Minnesota's culture war.

Anti-abortion advocates have received approval to open a Women's Care Center kitty-corner from the Women's Health Center, which is the only clinic in northern Minnesota offering abortions. Construction will begin soon, with the Care Center tentatively slated for a November opening.

Angie Wambach, a rural Duluth resident, will serve as the Care Center's unpaid director. She told the Duluth News Tribune that the controversial location was chosen "based on the need of the community and where most under-served women and families are... Perhaps abortion clinics are located there as well."

[jump] The Women's Care Center will not be staffed by medically licensed professionals. Instead, the volunteer-run organization will offer free non-medical services -- including counseling, pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, prenatal education, parenting classes, and self-sufficiency training for new parents and women facing unplanned pregnancies. It will also provide cribs, car seats, diapers, and other baby items through a Crib Club program.

But Laurie Casey, executive director of the Women's Health Center, anticipates that having an anti-abortion organization based across the street will make life more difficult for Health Center staff and patients.

"We already have problems with picketing and harassing patients, so we feel if the crisis pregnancy center goes kitty-corner from us, there just may be more picketing and harassment," she said.

Citing the similar names being used by the two organizations, Casey added, "we've heard this happens elsewhere. When clinics have similar names, there are problems... I don't care if they're anywhere else in Duluth, but they purposely want to build there so they can confuse women about the services they offer."

NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota argues that volunteer-run clinics like the Women's Care Center provide women with inaccurate information linking abortion to increased risk of breast cancer, mental health problems, future infertility and miscarriages.

Despite what Wambach now says, a December 2010 fundraising mailer stated that the impetus behind the Care Center's location was its proximity to the Health Center.

Citing a four percent increase in St. Louis County abortions, Wambach wrote that "For this reason, we are opening a new pregnancy resource center in the heart of our city immediately proximate to the Women's Health Center." Another pregnancy emergency center, offering similar services, is already located just a few blocks away from First and First, so it's questionable how great the need is for a second one in downtown Duluth.

Casey worries that the end result could be to misinform and confuse vulnerable women.

"Crisis pregnancy centers like to be near abortion clinics and try to confuse women," she said. "They try to get them to come to their place by mistake. Usually, they give inaccurate medical information and try to change a woman's mind."

More recent abortion coverage:

-- Women can no longer get non-surgical abortions in Wisconsin

-- Dayton vetoes two abortion-restricting bills

-- Abortion crackdowns advancing through Minnesota legislature

-- MN Senate committee passes two anti-abortion bills