By Donna Wright, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.
Jul. 24–Planned Parenthood officially opened its first health center in Manatee County on Wednesday night when supporters gathered to celebrate the event after decades of opposition.
But critics were still present as more than three dozen peaceful protesters gathered in front of the clinic at 1105 53rd Ave. E., holding signs that read, “Pray to end abortion.”
Nevertheless, the protesters’ presence did not dampen the enthusiasm of more than 100 supporters who cheered when the ceremonial ribbon was cut.
“This is a monumental day for Manatee County because there is such a monumental need,” said Karen Grablin, chairwoman of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Barbara Zdravecky, chief executive officer of the regional Planned Parenthood affiliate. “It’s a proud day because, standing here beside me is Greg Porges who, when he heard the county commission deny Planned Parenthood children’s services tax funds, picked up the banner to raise money for us.”
Porges, a local attorney, said the Manatee clinic is vital to the community’s health because it provides access to sensible reproductive and family planning education for all people.
But for Pastor Tad Matthews, who led the protest, Planned Parenthood is the wrong solution.
“We are out here because we believe that every life is precious to God and therefore to us and we oppose abortion,” said Matthews who leads Church of the Rock in Palmetto. “Every human being, including those in the womb, have a right to life.”
Clinic supporters said it will focus on health services, not abortions.
“We will not perform abortions here,” Zdravecky said. “The center will bring much-needed health care services to members of the community, regardless of income.”
Those services include health screenings, annual gynecological exams for $85, low-cost birth control, pregnancy testing, vaccines and screening for HIV and other sexually transmitted disease.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Manatee clinic offers teens an annual gynecological exam for $7 and birth control pills for $5 a pack, said Zdravecky said.
County Commissioner Gwendolyn Brown, who represents District 2, blamed Manatee County’s high teen pregnancy rate on community leaders’ unwillingness to deal effectively with the problem.
“I have an unfortunate high rate of teen pregnancies in my district,” Brown said. “There is a high rate of teen pregnancies in the state of Florida and it’s all because of a lack of information and education.”
Manatee County has the 17th highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, surpassing all Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. The youngest mother to give birth in Manatee County was just 10, according to health department statistics.
A recent survey of 2,196 ninth graders showed one-third of those students are sexually active. One out of 10 said they have had sex with four or more people.
Manatee County has an urgent need for expanded, low-cost reproductive health for people of all ages, said Lori Stabinski, the nurse practitioner in charge of the new clinic who once worked for Manatee County Health Department.
“I remember having to turn people down because we did not have the staffing,” Stabinski said. “We now have another facility that provides affordable reproductive health care. We provide care for men, too. “
The clinic is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Hours will be expanded as clientele increases.
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