Where Northeast Beech Street meets Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, about a half-dozen anti-abortion protesters gather nearly every day in front of a large, overgrown patch of grass.
They arrive for the morning and evening rush hours to protest the fate of this vacant lot in Northeast Portland: a Planned Parenthood health clinic set to break ground this week. Once completed in early 2010, the clinic hopes to serve at least 10,000 women a year with services including abortion, birth control, cancer and disease screenings, and counseling.
The clinic's protesters are part of a national anti-abortion campaign, organized by Catholic groups in 179 cities. The 40 Days for Life campaign, which began in late September, is engaging in prayer, fasting and frequent vigils.
Planned Parenthood expects between 2 percent and 5 percent of clinic users will come for abortions and that all its services will fill a void.
"Clearly, everyone has their First Amendment rights," says Liz Delapoer, Planned Parenthood marketing director. "But we're really excited about the new center because there is a huge need in the area for our services in the community."
Christina DeGoede, 19, is the local protest organizer. She lined up volunteers to demonstrate in two-hour shifts almost every day.
Precious Children of Portland, a local anti-abortion group, signed up for most of the time slots. When WW visited last Friday afternoon, Oct. 17, there were far fewer protesters (4) than signs (15)—some of which accused Planned Parenthood of "black genocide" because the clinic is in a neighborhood with a large percentage of black residents. The protesters say they're undaunted.
The four protesters spread out down MLK and carefully positioned their signs in front of the vacant lot.
Lee Harris, a lanky first-time demonstrator in his late 20s, held a sign reading "Adoption Not Abortion" and waved to passing cars. In less than 10 minutes, people in three cars flipped him off and yelled obscenities.
"I felt like God was leading me to stand here to oppose abortion," Harris said. "This isn't against any group or individual, it's against the cruel practice of abortion."
Bernadine Niece says she and other Precious Children members have been protesting at the site for 18 months—long before 40 Days for Life began. They've been demonstrating since the city approved plans for the land owned by the Portland Development Commission to become a $12 million, 40,000-square-foot building for a Planned Parenthood center and a handful of retail shops.
"I want to prick people's conscience a bit," says Niece, who lives a block from the site and attends Holy Redeemer Church nearby.
In May, after nearly a year of protests, project contractor Walsh Construction pulled out of the project (see "Murmurs," WW, May 14, 2008). Soon after Walsh left, Planned Parenthood hired B&G Builders as its new contractor. This kept the plans for the site on track, and kept the protesters coming.
Planned Parenthood officials aren't the only ones tired of the demonstrators. Local businesses are fed up with constant protests just steps from their front doors.
Nicole Cathcart, the owner of coffee joint Java Rama, won't serve the demonstrators when they come in for a cup.
"I'm not interested in starting a dialogue with them," she says. "I'm interested in them going away."
Planned Parenthood is scheduled to hold a ceremonial ground-breaking at the site Wednesday, Oct. 22.