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Delaware County Right to Life's Account of the Battle to Oust Planned Parenthood from Hancock, NY

Thanks be to God, the monthly Hancock, NY clinic site of Planned Parenthood of Delaware and Otsego Counties (PPADOC) closed as of June 30, 1999 according to its director, Debra Marcus (1). The nearly seven year fight to oust PP from Hancock relied on STOPP Planned Parenthood International inspired tactics of prayer and consistent, peaceful, legal picketing.

In 1992, when it was announced that PP would open a monthly clinic at the satellite offices of Delaware Valley Hospital in Hancock, some local pastors banded together and consulted STOPP Pres. Jim Sedlak for advice. They wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to warn the community of PP's evils and circulated petitions, in local churches, which asked the hospital not to bring PP into Hancock.

The hospital board ignored the petition; in Spring 1993 when the clinic opened, it was met by a handful of members of the newly formed Gift of Life League who prayed and handed out literature in front of the monthly clinic. Soon PP was bringing a group of "escorts" which often outnumbered the picketers. For months before and after the opening, the letters to the editor column of the HANCOCK HERALD was filled with anti and pro PP letters.

Later in 1993, the battle against PP grew to a countywide effort as Delaware County Right to Life (DCRTL) was formed, and Jim Sedlak spoke in Walton, NY. A handful of DCRTL members began to picket Delaware Valley Hospital in Walton where PP had been harbored for about 20 years. Letters to the editors continued to fly countywide. In the meantime, Fr. David Testa of St. Paul's Church in Hancock lead an effort which established the Lourdes Hospital Prenatal Clinic in Hancock as an alternative to PP.

In Feb. 1994, Delaware Valley Hospital announced that it would no longer provide space for PP in its Hancock or Walton offices. Hospital Pres. David Polge stated that the hospital needed a positive image "in order to continue our financial turnaround. Therefore, anything that muddles our identity, needs to have serious consideration"(2). PPADOC Director Debra Marcus fumed, "It's frightening if hospital policy is made by one or two misbeguided (sic), noisy individuals who refuse to be educated" (referring to letters to Polge during the hospital's fund drive (3)).

PP was forced to find office space elsewhere in Hancock and Walton, but no longer had access to the continual flow of hospital patients. STOPP's Jim Sedlak joined a hefty crowd of picketers in Walton when PP opened a replacement office later in 1994. The next 5 years had its ups and downs.

DCRTL expanded its fight against PP to include opposition to its contract with Delaware County's Dept. of Social Services to provide family planning services. In 1995, DCRTL opposed a condom distribution campaign sponsored by a PP affiliate. In 1997, STOPP's Jim Sedlak joined about 75 pro-lifers and DCRTL as it conducted a protest of the opening of a new PPADOC clinic in a former convent in Sidney, NY. Also in 1997, an on-going weekly picket of a Binghamton, NY abortionist was established. In 1998, DCRTL successfully orchestrated the defeat of a move to open a school-based clinic in Hancock using funds proposed by a pro-PP state senator in the NYS budget. The main tactic was letters to the school board from local church organizations.

The original group of Hancock pastors who began the fight gradually moved elsewhere. Their replacements did not have the same commitment. Consequently, the Hancock Prenatal Clinic closed down. Local editors instituted policies which limited the number of PP/abortion related letters or ceased printing letters from certain pro-lifers altogether. Some DCRTL members became inactive due to discouragement or relocation. Weekly picketing at the Walton PP could not be maintained.

But a faithful remnant of about a half dozen continued to pray and picket the monthly PP site in Hancock. Silenced elsewhere, they could not be silenced on the street. Rain or shine, hot or cold, someone covered almost every PP visit to Hancock. The focal point was a 15-minute ecumenical prayer service at a regular time in front of the clinic. Those that could would often stay longer to picket, sometimes an hour, sometimes several. In 1998, the last of the original anti-PP pastors, Rev. Francis Waite, moved. His presence at prayer services was deeply missed. The remaining PP fighters were now all Catholics and decided to shift to saying the rosary. Within a year, the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe resulted in the clinic's demise.

As we give thanks and rejoice at this victory, we ask the Lord to renew opposition to PPADOC in nearby Walton, Sidney, and Oneonta, and we prayerfully await the complete demise of PPADOC. Special thanks to STOPP for its guidance, and to those who prayed and/or picketed in Hancock, especially Mitch Wright, Mary & Jerry Chase, Helena Dirig, Bill & Moira McHugh, Linda Szymkowiak & children, Rev. Francis Waite, Rev. Craig Adams, and Fr. David Testa.


NOTES:

(1) The WALTON REPORTER, 6/2/99, p.16

(2) The Oneonta DAILY STAR, 2/9/94, p.1 & p.12

(3) THE WALTON REPORTER, 2/9/94, p.1 & p.6

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