Texas Contractor Leads Boycott Against Abortion Clinic Site
AUSTIN, Texas — “If you build it, they will kill children. So don't help them build it.”
That's the simple message Texas construction contractors — Catholics and others — are getting from Chris Danze, an Austin construction contractor who is spearheading a boycott of a proposed Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.
“We have a window of opportunity right now to stop them or at least slow them down,” said Danze, who credits his Catholic faith for his pro-life activism. “Once that thing is built, it will be at least 10 or 20 years of looking at a building that's used to promote sexual mayhem and the killing of unborn children. I don't want to look at it.”
Danze knew nothing of Planned Parenthood's plans for the new $6.2 million, 20,000-square-foot building until 10 weeks ago when he read a small news item in the Austin Chronicle, an alternative newsweekly. He read that with the new building, at 201 Ben White Blvd., Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region would offer in-house abortions for the first time. In the past, Planned Parenthood clinics in and around Austin have only made abortion referrals.
“I saw that, and my reaction was to send off a letter to 25 of my closest vendors, including people who supply my company with cement, steel, wood and other construction materials,” Danze explained. “I told them that if I saw their trucks on that construction site, I would no longer do business with them.”
A few of Danze's subcontractors were upset, but most agreed to comply. Danze said several were inspired to help make the boycott a success.
“It caught on, and some of those vendors started offering to help me in promoting the boycott,” Danze said. “We got a snowball effect going.”
Phone calls were made, and more letters were written to every construction company and supply firm within a 60-mile radius of Austin. Newspapers and television stations picked up on it, airing Danze's efforts to blacklist the project. “We've been contacting everyone who supplies portable toilets for construction sites, portable fencing, equipment rental companies, steel suppliers, lumber suppliers and the list goes on,” Danze said. “We've been getting about a 95% positive response from the industry as a whole.”
As a result, subcontractors began backing out of their contracts with the abortion clinic's general contractor — Browning Construction Co. of Browning, Texas. Danze says all of the 18 cement contractors that operate within a 60-mile radius of Austin have agreed to refuse service and cement for the abortion clinic.
“I don't know what they're going to do when it comes time to pour cement,” Danze said. “They'll probably find a way, but it's going to be slow and costly, and it may be inferior cement.”
Danze's efforts, however, have not stopped construction in its tracks. A groundbreaking ceremony was staged Sept. 23, featuring about 200 of the clinic's supporters — including Austin Mayor Will Wynn and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin.
“Mr. Danze's boycott will not affect our ability to complete this project at all,” said Danielle Tierney, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region. “Austin is a very pro-choice community and we have a great deal of support.”
The groundbreaking was possible because Browning Construction owner James Browning has resisted Danze's pleas that he back out of the contract. Furthermore, a handful of area subcontractors — including an excavation company — told Danze they didn't care to discuss a boycott.
Some contractors have been brought in from faraway cities in Texas, and Danze said it would be impossible to successfully boycott the abortion clinic throughout a state the size of Texas. However, every time he sees a new out-of-area subcontractor at the site, he pays the owner a visit.
“We ask them, 'Do you know what you're building?' Then we explain it to them,” Danze said. “The guy with the excavation company told me to get out of his face and never contact him again. So there are a few people in the industry who are happy to participate in this and help make it happen.”
Others, such as James Stapp, are torn. Stapp is vice president of Capital Chem Can, a company in Buda, Texas, that leases and maintains portable toilet facilities for construction sites.
“Everybody in the construction industry is begging for work right now, so this darn clinic is really a tough issue,” said Stapp, who is Catholic. “The hardest part is this assertion that if we rent a toilet for that construction project, we're somehow condoning or supporting what will go on in that building. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people at Capital Chem Can, and our families, do not support abortion in any way.”
Stapp said he's praying about the decision he has to make: Whether to revoke toilet service for Browning Construction — a major contractor that helps keep him in business — in order to take a stand against abortion.
“Browning has given me business for 15 years,” Stapp said. “That company has stuck by me at times when the economy has been in pitiful shape. And you know what, until Chris Danze talked to me I didn't have any idea what they were building at 201 Ben White. I never know what's going up. I show up and leave toilets at a construction site before anyone else begins work.”
Stapp said he won't make a decision about boycotting until he's spoken with his priest, Father Howard Goertz, pastor of St. Anthony's Church, in Kyle, Texas. He'll pose this question: “What if I don't back out of this contract, but I donate all of my net profit from this to a pro-life organization? Where would that put me?”
James Browning, owner of Browning Construction, did not return calls from the Register. Danze said Browning has been unwilling to explain why he won't agree to boycott the project — a move that would bring construction to a halt, at least temporarily.
“James Browning was very polite when I spoke to him, and he listened very attentively to what I had to say,” Danze said. “But all he will tell me is that the project is moving forward.”
Danze said he no longer expects to stop the clinic from being built.
“But I can slow it down,” he said, “and I can probably add a quarter-million dollars to the cost.”
Wayne Laugesen is based in Boulder, Colorado.
- October 12-18, 2003