BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Sidewalk counselor Janice Nelson worked and prayed for 30 years to make Birmingham abortion-free before her prayers were answered.
With a Planned Parenthood mysteriously shuttering its doors — perhaps only temporarily — the city for the past month has become the only metro area in the United States without an operating abortion center.
“When I started in pro-life work in Birmingham, there were seven abortion centers,” Nelson said. And while some have closed and reopened over the years, “this is the only time in about 30 years that we have been without an operating abortion center in town,” she said.
A sign above the Birmingham Planned Parenthood reads, in part: “This facility is temporarily closed."
The website for the center lists no scheduled hours. It states only that its operations are “temporarily slowed” and refers women to other Planned Parenthood facilities.
On Thursday, Nelson said they had a victory celebration outside the abortion center, covered by local news stations. The pro-life advocates from the Hispanic community, she said, were especially out in force and gave their testimonies in Spanish.
Nelson said the abortion business has not been performing abortions since Christmas. She said that the week before the Christian holiday the facility aborted the unborn children of approximately 80 mothers. But the center has only been open sporadically since Jan. 6, not long enough for any women to receive abortions, Nelson said.
“It was just an outpouring of joy and celebration,” Nelson said of the Thursday event. She added that the pro-life community will be engaged in a march on Saturday to celebrate the closing.
The reasons for the abortion center shutting its doors — even if only temporarily — are unclear.
Nelson said that she spoke with two sidewalk counselors who witnessed the facility’s director looking “angry and upset” on Dec. 30, when she was escorted from the building. They also observed the locks being changed on the doors.
Nora Spencer, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Southeast, told the Register in a statement that they are “slowing down our services in Birmingham temporarily in order to upgrade our operations.”
She added, “Planned Parenthood Southeast is committed to excellence, and the effort we are taking is to verify that we are doing everything we can to ensure patients have a safe, positive experience while in our care.”
However, Spencer did not provide the Register with comment beyond her original statement.
The Alabama Department of Public Health is also surprised by the facility’s abrupt decision to stop operations.
“The state is not currently investigating it for anything,” said Brian Hale, deputy general counsel at the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). “The closure appears to be the clinic’s own doing. It certainly is not anything that’s occurred by compulsion of the Department of Public Health.”
Hale said, however, that they were going to look into the matter, in order “to determine for ourselves why the clinic has closed.”
Hale did say the ADPH has some history with the Planned Parenthood Birmingham business. A Live Action undercover investigation by Lila Rose in 2008, Hale said, showed “pretty well-documented” evidence that Planned Parenthood staff were failing to report potential sexual abuse of underage girls. The ADPH put Planned Parenthood on a year’s probation until January 2011, after entering into a “consent agreement” that required the facility to comply with state laws or lose its operating license.
Nelson mentioned that the abortion facility is facing a lawsuit from a former client, because the abortionist failed to detect that she had an ectopic pregnancy and instead performed the procedure on her empty uterus. The woman’s fallopian tube later burst, nearly killing her and rendering her permanently infertile.
“It’s a very lucrative business for them, and they will try every means to reopen,” said Nelson. She expressed skepticism that the facility would have closed so abruptly “just to revamp,” and she speculated that its current troubles may be related to the lawsuit.
The Birmingham Planned Parenthood abortion center has been the focus of prayerful, peaceful pro-life ministry for many years. 40 Days for Life has had a presence in the city for the past six years, Nelson said, adding that the Diocese of Birmingham offered a novena of 40 Masses last year with the specific intention that Planned Parenthood’s abortion center would close its doors.
“We’ve seen dramatic conversions: women who have changed their minds and workers who have left,” Nelson said. “So I think 40 days has had a big impact.”
In fact, she said, one Hispanic mother who chose life instead of abortion brought her child with her to the Thursday celebration.
In the meantime, Nelson said the Her Choice Birmingham crisis-pregnancy center across from Planned Parenthood has been “swamped” since Christmas, with a “record number of phone messages” from abortion-minded women seeking help.
“We just hope and pray they remain closed,” Nelson said of Planned Parenthood, adding that they will remain vigilant of the center’s status.
“It could reopen soon,” Nelson said, “but each day that they are closed increases the number of lives saved. Just one month in Birmingham with no operating abortion clinic is just wonderful.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.