Planned Parenthood builds Alabama clinic despite near-total ban on abortions

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Planned Parenthood is building the stage for another possible fight over abortion in Alabama: a large women's clinic that's under construction despite the state's passage of a near-total ban on abortions.

Located beside an interstate highway in downtown Birmingham, the 10,000-square-foot structure is now nothing but a steel frame and roof. Workers under the constant watch of security guards appear to be installing electrical wiring, plus heating and cooling units.

The new facility could be complete around November, which is the same time the new state law will take effect unless blocked by courts. Abortion critics vow to oppose the opening, but a spokeswoman for the women's health organization said neither the new law nor opponents were a factor in the project.

"We are a doctor that Birmingham has counted on for decades, and we are committed to continuing to provide that care," said Barbara Ann Luttrell, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based Planned Parenthood Southeast.

Construction began in January and is continuing despite the Republican-controlled Legislature's passage of a law that would outlaw abortion in the state unless the mother's life is in peril. Lawmakers rejected exemptions for cases of rape and incest.

Groups including Planned Parenthood have sued to block the law, which supporters hope will become the vehicle that a conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court uses to gut the 1972 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

But no court hearing is set, so abortion opponents say they hope the opening will be blocked by some combination of the new law, public pressure, and a state agency.

Regardless of the law, abortion opponents aim to convince the Alabama Department of Public Health to deny a license for the facility, and they've tried to convince construction contractors to refuse work on the building through phone calls and emails, said Rev. Terry Gensemer of Metro Birmingham Life Forum.

"It was surprising when we found out that they were going to build this," said Gensemer. "My question is after the bill passage, why are they continuing to be so aggressive when the possibility exists that they won't be able to be in business?"

Alabama has a long history of passing laws to restrict abortion, and Luttrell said there was "absolutely no slowdown due to the legislative session" or the new law.

The only work delays so far may be linked to a rainy spring, she said, and Planned Parenthood is complying with all laws "so there should be no reason we would not be granted a license."

The new clinic, which encompasses several thousand square feet, will be located on a lot that records show the organization purchased last year for $430,600. It would replace the current Planned Parenthood clinic in Birmingham, where opponents say abortions haven't been performed regularly since 2017. Luttrell says the current clinic takes appointments for the procedure when it can find a doctor to perform abortions.

The nonprofit organization's clinic in Mobile is closed for renovations, Luttrell said. That leaves only three abortion clinics operating in the state in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and Huntsville. None of those are operated by Planned Parenthood.

Luttrell said Planned Parenthood hopes courts block the new law by the time the new clinic is ready to open. Aside from abortion, it will offer birth control, cancer testing, and screening for sexually transmitted diseases, she said.

"It's going to be a big, state-of-the-art facility with several exam rooms, offices. It will just be a new, beautiful building," said Luttrell.

But an opponent of the project, the Rev. Harry Reeder of the influential Briarwood Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, said the clinic is "designed to give false counsel" to women that abortion is the best way to handle an unwanted pregnancy.

"We still stand and we will kneel in prayer that this facility will not be built," Reeder during a news conference across the street from the construction site Thursday.