Aurora to allow Planned Parenthood clinic to open




By Tara Burghart

AURORA, Ill. – A new Planned Parenthood clinic that became a focus of the national abortion debate while local officials reviewed how building permits were obtained will open its doors Tuesday, two weeks later than originally planned.

But with one lawsuit already filed by anti-abortion activists and another one promised, the case is likely to stay active in the courts.

The clinic’s opening was delayed because Aurora officials would not issue occupancy permits while a review was under way into Planned Parenthood’s use of a subsidiary, Gemini Office Development, to build the clinic.

On Monday, Mayor Tom Weisner announced that reviews by three different attorneys found no legal basis to deny an occupancy permit to the clinic. A temporary permit was granted Monday afternoon – city officials said routine paperwork would allow a permanent permit to be issued soon – and Planned Parenthood said it would start seeing patients at the building Tuesday morning.

“It’s always a victory when we can expand access to reproductive health care services, including abortion services,” said Steve Trombley, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area. “If our opponents block us from entering any community, it opens the door to them blocking us from going into every community.”

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The 22,000-square-foot, $7.5 million building has been the target of anti-abortion protesters, who accused Planned Parenthood of deceiving officials in Illinois’ second-largest city into granting building permits.

It became public knowledge in late July that Planned Parenthood would occupy the space.

Planned Parenthood officials said they were trying to protect the clinic’s staff and construction workers from round-the-clock protests, but there was no effort to defraud city officials.

However, anti-abortion activists pointed to a November 2006 planning and development committee when an alderman asked “Is this building being specifically built for a client?”

A man city attorneys have labeled a Gemini official replied: “We’re in negotiations with a tenant; we do not currently have a lease but we will want to move ahead.”

At a City Hall news conference, Weisner said he felt that Planned Parenthood was “less than forthcoming in some ways” but added that other developers have been known to avoid disclosing they have a tenant in place for a building.

He said he felt that he had an obligation to investigate the allegations and acknowledged being “inundated with thousands of phone calls, letters and requests from people who felt passionately on both sides of the abortion issue.

“As elected officials, we, however, are sworn to uphold the law regardless of our personal, emotional or even religious beliefs,” he said. “Based on the opinions of these three attorneys, the city of Aurora has no legal basis to deny Planned Parenthood an occupancy permit.”

Two of the reviews came from private attorneys with zoning expertise hired by the city.

When questions about potential conflicts of interest were raised about those lawyers, Weisner asked Kane County State’s Attorney John Barsanti to offer his advice. Earlier Monday, Barsanti said Planned Parenthood broke no Illinois criminal laws, but said he had no authority or jurisdiction in matters involving city or village ordinances, land use or zoning.

Eric Scheidler, spokesman for the Pro-Life Action League, which has helped organize protests at the clinic, said he was angry the mayor released his findings to the media before the general public.

He said his group will file a lawsuit in DuPage County on Tuesday alleging that because Planned Parenthood is a not-for-profit, it required a special-use permit, which would have required a public hearing and notification of nearby property owners.

One of the attorneys’ reviews already dismissed that argument, but Scheidler said he’ll continue working to get the clinic shut down.

“It won’t be over until Planned Parenthood leaves Aurora,” Scheidler said.

Also Monday, anti-abortion activists filed a libel lawsuit against Planned Parenthood in Kane County district court, claiming Planned Parenthood stated in a letter to Aurora officials and in at least one newspaper advertisement that opponents of the clinic had “a well-documented history of violence and criminal activity.”

“You cannot accuse the peaceful citizens of Aurora of violent crimes and advocating violence simply because you disagree with their message,” said attorney Tom Brejcha of the Thomas More Society of Chicago, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of 19 area activists.

Trombley said he saw “no basis for this lawsuit” but that he hadn’t read it and so couldn’t comment further.

Associated Press Writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.