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Planned Parenthood opens In Aurora
By Amy Boerema

Protesters at the newly opened Planned Parenthood Clinic Tuesday in Aurora.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

After weeks of legal wrangling, Planned Parenthood opened in Aurora Tueday.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Mike Miller,left and Patty Weber 12, and her brother Jacob,7,of St.Charles paticipated in a protest at the newly opened clinic Tuesday.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/2/2007 12:05 PM | Updated: 10/3/2007 9:44 AM

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One of the country's largest Planned Parenthood clinics opened its doors Tuesday after weeks of vitriolic debate and scrutiny that thrust Aurora into the national spotlight.

A 40-foot-wide banner on the 22,000-square-foot building proclaimed, "This center is now open."

Clinic supporters, opponents, police and media swarmed the site at Oakhurst Drive and New York Street.

"Make no mistake: It took a lot for this to happen," said Steve Trombley, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area. "It was worth every minute."

The full-service center offers breast exams, pap tests, birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and abortion services.

The clinic began seeing patients Tuesday afternoon, and operators booked about 30 appointments, Trombley said.

In its first year, the clinic expects to handle about 8,000 patients and 10,500 visits. Of those visits, about 2,400 will be for abortions.

The latter is what drew thousands of detractors and supporters -- some from other states -- to the clinic, making it a cause celebre in the nationwide debate.

Protesters vowed Tuesday to continue their fight to close the building.

City leaders issued the clinic an occupancy permit Monday, after releasing results of an outside review that found no grounds to prevent the opening.

The clinic originally was scheduled to open Sept. 18, but that date was pushed back when it became locked in a legal battle over the validity of its permits.

Opponents claimed Planned Parenthood deceived the city and misrepresented itself by applying for permits as Gemini Development, a subsidiary.

In response to those allegations, the city initiated an outside investigation, which ultimately involved three attorneys reviewing the clinic's permit process.

Planned Parenthood unsuccessfully challenged the city in court, attempting to open while the review was taking place.

Clinic officials said they complied with all required public disclosures but initially kept the project quiet so protesters wouldn't harass workers.

But the clinic's biggest resistance came from Chicago's Pro-Life Action League, which held round-the-clock prayer vigils on site before its opening.

Most recently, the group filed a libel suit against Trombley and Gemini, saying he wrongly accused protesters of advocating violence.

The clinic, when it reaches full capacity in the next several years, will see more than 25,000 women a year, officials said.

The Aurora area is one of the nation's fastest-growing, they said, but health-care options haven't kept pace.

"The reality is many women don't have access -- or can't afford -- such life-saving services as pap tests to screen for cervical cancer, exams to detect breast cancer and treatment for sexually transmitted infections," Trombley said.

Roughly 100 abortion opponents attended the opening. They peacefully held signs, prayed and sang.

Patients need not worry about them, Trombley said, because the building's entrance is off a private drive.

But some protesters Tuesday morning walked down the drive and stood directly across from the doors.

"We just moved over there," said Eric Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League spokesman. "Until the property owner says, 'Nay,' I think we'll hang out here."

The property in question is owned by Safeway. Trombley said Tuesday that clinic officials are "working on" urging Safeway to keep protesters away from their entrance.

One man, holding a sign that read, "Father of 4, I support Planned Parenthood!" stood amid the protesters. "I will not be moved!" he shouted, "unless my voice gives out!"

Clinic supporter Colleen Heflin-Duval, a rape crisis volunteer, said she'll refer patients here.

"I am thrilled this center is open," she said. "It was very frustrating to see them have to go through review after review."

Opponents standing along Oakhurst Drive didn't feel that way.

"I'm disgusted," Andrea Mather of South Elgin said. "We tried so hard. They think they can come into town based on lies."

On Tuesday morning, the Pro-Life Action League filed a notice of appeal with the city's zoning board of appeals, alleging the facility didn't obtain a necessary special-use permit.

It asks the board to reject the clinic's permits and to "restore and return the property to its status prior to construction."

"This case has been such a mess," said attorney Peter Breen, who filed the notice. "Unfortunately here, we have a mayor gone wild."

Mayor Tom Weisner is being criticized for issuing an occupancy permit without bringing the results of the city's review before aldermen for a discussion and vote.

"As government, we are here to follow the law," Weisner said, "and I believe that is what we have done."

The matter should go before the zoning board within 30 days, city spokeswoman Carie Anne Ergo said. Meanwhile, the clinic can stay open, she said.

Opponents, including Scheidler, stood outside city hall Tuesday night as aldermen held a committee of the whole meeting inside.

"We're praying for the mayor," Scheidler said. "He needs our prayers desperately."

Others came hoping for any board discussion on the issue but left disappointed. Protesters will continue to hold prayer vigils, mostly during clinic hours, Scheidler said, as well as pursue legal options.

"It's a consolation we were able to keep the place closed for two weeks," he said. "We may have saved the lives of dozens of babies. From the beginning, we knew we were in this for the long haul."