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THE DAILY STAR (Oneonta, NY) August 19,1997

Lead story, Top of page 1

Protesters lash out at clinic


Tri-Towns Bureau

SIDNEY - More than 25 people protested the opening of a Planned Parenthood health center in Sidney on Monday, particularly upset that the clinic is based in a former convent.

The group of protesters, affiliated with Stop Planned Parenthood International of Lagrangeville, walked a protest line in front of the new Planned Parenthood offices at 37 Pleasant St. carrying pictures of mutilated fetuses and signs that read "Stop Abortion Now" and other anti-abortion messages.

Edward Szymkowiak of Hancock said the protest was organized within only three days. Participants were interested in protesting partly because of the house's history.

The house was the site of the Rainbow Daycare Center for about 12 years before it closed last year. But before that, the house was used as a convent by the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Church of Sidney, Szymkowiak said.

"The particularly offensive thing is the world's largest abortion chain is moving into this place that used to be a convent and used to have a chapel in it," said Szymkowiak, who added that he fears the Planned Parenthood office will advise women to have abortions or even perform them. "We have to keep moving and can't block access, but we can provide a peaceful, prayerful presence, and hopefully Planned Parenthood will decide not to open here."

Debra Marcus, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Otsego and Delaware Counties said abortions are not performed at local Planned Parenthood clinics.

"None of the Planned Parenthood affiliates in Otsego or Delaware county are doing abortions," she said. "However, we do provide them with every option and referral available as any health-care provider or doctor has to do according to the state law."

Marcus said when a pregnant woman goes to a Planned Parenthood center for a pregnancy screening/test, she will be told what choices she can legally make. She said women are advised they could carry the unborn child to term and get prenatal care from Planned Parenthood, put the child up for adoption or get an abortion.

As a rock album from the group AC/DC played from a neighbor's window with songs such as "Hell's Bell's" blasting at the picketers, the protesters kept moving and singing songs and prayers of their own, Szymkowiak said when the protesters started reciting the rosary the music started screeching from the nearby window, but it only added vigor to their protest.

Gene Walsh of Sidney said he remember doing construction work at the convent about 20 years ago. Walsh said advocating abortion, especially at the site, is wrong, as there are people going to other countries to adopt children. Walsh said he's adopted three kids in addition to the eight children he had biologically.

Marcus said the Sidney community and the state Department of Health have been very supportive of the new health center.

Marcus said she didn't know the house used to be the site of a convent; she only knew it as the former Rainbow Daycare Center. She said Roman Catholics in the area should not feel offended because the mission of Planned Parenthood is to better the health of men and women.

"We see this as a health care center, as a place for healing, and I think it's in perfect line with what the place once was," Marcus said.

Marcus said Planned Parenthood provides numerous health services, including cancer screening, a full range of gynecological care, contraceptives, midlife services for women in menopause and confidential testing for and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

"We located it where we did to make it accessible to the people of Sidney," Marcus said. "If they really cared about health care, these people wouldn't be protesting."

Maria Newell, a neighbor of the clinic, said she recently moved to Sidney from Rochester and previously worked for a crisis pregnancy center. She said most of those who went to Planned Parenthood there didn't learn the full range of options and care they needed.

She said she saw young women who had been to Planned Parenthood for contraceptives but ended up getting pregnant and needing the crisis pregnancy center.

Newell, who is now pregnant herself, said when she saw the protest forming Monday she had to take part.

"I joined the crisis pregnancy center because I didn't want to just complain," Newell said, "I know there are many people who want to do well at Planned Parenthood, but I think abortion is not the right way."

Cathy Mulhern, Newell's neighbor and friend, said she thinks people in Sidney need a place like Planned Parenthood to go to and she's happy the clinic is opening. Mulhern said that making a decision about birth is a difficult one and that people should have a choice.

"Abstinence is nice, but that is if we lived in an ideal society, which we don't," Mulhern said. "It's a parent's responsibility to teach their children about birth control and sex in general, and parents need to take greater responsibility. But teen-agers don't always listen to their parents."

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