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Planned Parenthood launches PR campaign for clinic
By Amy Boerema | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/5/2007 5:54 PM

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Officials this morning sent aldermen and Mayor Tom Weisner letters defending their actions in obtaining the permit for their facility. They're also taking out newspaper ads and distributing T-shirts, yard signs and bumper stickers in an effort to build support.

Planned Parenthood will offer gynecological and abortion services when it opens at Oakhurst Drive and New York Street on the city's east side.

Chicago's Pro-Life Action League has been the clinic's biggest opponent, organizing protests and an on-site, round-the-clock prayer vigil. The group's leaders have accused clinic officials of being deceptive during the permit process by not disclosing who they were.

In its permit applications, the medical center owner is listed as Gemini Office Development, a subsidiary of Planned Parenthood.

The city, meanwhile, says it will review the development process with an outside attorney. The results will determine if the center can open as scheduled on Sept. 18. The clinic cannot open until the review is complete.

Until now, clinic officials have been more restrained public relations-wise than their opponents. Now it's time to speak up, they said.

"Our concern was people were reaching conclusions without hearing all the facts," said Steve Trombley, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area.

In coming weeks, clinic officials plan to more aggressively spread the word about their preventive offerings.

"We believe the preventive services this health center will provide will do more in one day to prevent abortion than our opponents will do in a lifetime," Trombley said.

Planned Parenthood officials complied with all legal and public disclosure requirements during the permitting process, he said, while trying to keep the project quiet during construction.

The Pro-Life Action League has a history of violence, Trombley said, and officials wanted to protect the privacy and safety of workers during construction and avoid disruptive and potentially violent protests.

"We certainly kept the building of this facility private in an effort not to alert our opposition, who have a history of criminal behavior," Trombley said. "That is different than their allegation that we defrauded the city."

Pro-Life Action League spokesman Eric Scheidler said his group is committed to non-violent activism.

There has been no violence on its part during the protests in Aurora, he said.

"It's terribly unfortunate Planned Parenthood has gone so far as to accuse the fine citizens of Aurora and Naperville -- of being violent and radical," he said. "We're just regular people. Most (supporters) have never done anything activist before."

It's about time clinic officials are reaching out to the public, he said. "I'm glad they're trying to talk to this community they've been avoiding for so long," he said.

Planned Parenthood officials say they have been honest all along. They could have financed their $7.5 million project privately, with little or no disclosure, they said.

Instead, they made it public, with newspaper notifications and a public hearing, which listed Gemini as a subsidiary of Planned Parenthood, Trombley said.

"Certainly, that is not the kind of behavior of a center trying to hide its identity," he said.