In the midst of attacks both political and potentially criminal, the local chapter of Planned Parenthood broke ground this week on a new $5 million health care facility.
The Smith-Barbieri Center, named for principal donors Don Barbieri and Sharon Smith, is expected to open next door to the health care nonprofit’s existing location at 123 E. Indiana Ave. in winter 2017. Planned Parenthood’s new building will be slightly smaller than the existing center, which is a modified office building the organization moved into in the 1980s.
“This is much more than just another building,” said Karl Eastlund, chief executive at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. “Obviously, we needed to update this structure. It’s old. It’s inefficient. This is really going to allow us to expand our services into the next 50 years.”
The new health center will feature nine exam rooms and two surgical suites, where services such as cancer screening, ultrasounds and abortions can be performed. It also will feature a community classroom and education center that will host classes, including sex education for teenagers and health programs for young families. Planned Parenthood has raised $1.3 million of its $2 million goal in private donations for the project, and will continue to accept gifts through December 2020 to cover the cost.
The construction begins just a few months after Planned Parenthood’s location in Pullman reopened, following a suspected arson in September. The FBI has been investigating the incident, but, as of this week, no arrests have been made.
The National Abortion Federation announced last month that death threats against abortion clinics increased in 2015, following the release of undercover videos by a group against abortion they said showed Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue, a claim the nonprofit has repeatedly denied.
In January, a Texas grand jury indicted members of the Center for Medical Progress, the organization that published the video, but took no action against Planned Parenthood.
Smith, who said she was treated for cancer while in her 20s thanks to screenings performed at Planned Parenthood, acknowledged the heated political climate that has produced multiple protests at the Spokane location, but said she felt compelled to “stand up and do what’s right.” The Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund donated $500,000 to the project, its largest single gift to date, Smith said.
“It’s troubling to me that the people who need health care have to think about it,” Smith said of the political opposition, which has turned violent in places other than Pullman. In November, a gunman entered a Planned Parenthood location in Colorado Springs and opened fire, killing three people. The suspected gunman said he was “a warrior for the babies.”
The undercover videos have prompted congressional investigations. A bill that would have removed federal funding for Planned Parenthood reached President Barack Obama’s desk in February, but he vetoed it. Congress failed to override the veto on a party-line vote.
Local author Jess Walter, who introduced the main donors of the project at a ceremony Thursday night, said supporting the nonprofit shouldn’t be political.
“This is about family, and about fairness, and what kind of community we want to live in,” Walter said.
Other major donors include the family of Robert L. Nielsen, a physician who served on the organization’s board and was a graduate of the University of Washington.
The Harriet Cheney Cowles Foundation donated $250,000 to the project. Betsy Cowles and Stacey Cowles spoke on behalf of the foundation and their mother, Allison Cowles, who served on Planned Parenthood’s board and was an early advocate of reproductive rights and family planning.
“We all would say Allison would be pleased, wherever she is, and we’re very pleased to be able to honor her with a gift to this great new building,” Betsy Cowles said.
The Cowles family owns Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review. Betsy Cowles is the chairman of the company, and Stacey Cowles is the publisher of The Spokesman-Review.
The new building will allow Planned Parenthood to serve 50 percent more patients over five years, according to the nonprofit. In 2015, the Spokane clinic treated 9,778 patients, according to the organization’s annual report.
Abortions made up about 3.8 percent of the services rendered to visitors to the Greater Washington and North Idaho Planned Parenthood last year.
Smith and Barbieri said their key concern was making sure patients had a safe place to receive health care.
“The patients that come here deserve dignity,” Smith said.
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