Planned Parenthood will open the doors to its new clinic in Lubbock on Monday. A team of contractors worked on final touches to the new site—securing signs, assembling cabinets and hanging photos in the front entrance. Once hung, the photos will depict a timeline of Planned Parenthood’s 85-year history in Texas.
Sarah Wheat is with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. She works in Austin but flew in for the opening of Lubbock’s clinic. Her team has been planning their return to West Texas for over two years now. Standing in the hallways of the new clinic, “This feels amazing,” she said.
The building is a former dentist office, located just a mile from Texas Tech University. Wheat opened the first door from the waiting area. “This is the education room,” she explained.
The small room is illuminated by a floor to ceiling window. The natural light helps the center feel more open, she said. The back wall is accented by a bright magenta wall and inspirational quotes hang in each room—a touch she said clients appreciate.
Cabinet doors rest on a chair inside the first exam room. “As you can see not all the furniture is in here yet,” Wheat said.
The clinic has 4 exam rooms, a lab and an on-site pharmacy—features designed to make visits as efficient as possible for their clients. “We’re here. We’re opening our doors next week. We’ve got a wide range of services we’ll provide.”
Those services include cancer screenings, infection testing and treatment, birth control and other medical assistance.
A petition to ban abortions in Lubbock
Protests have been staged outside city hall since July, when Planned Parenthood announced it’s return to the West Texas town.
Those opposed to the healthcare provider focus on one service they’ll eventually offer—abortions. It’s become a flashpoint with the mayor’s race. Dan Pope, the city's current mayor, has been peppered with questions at public events. At last week’s coffee with the mayor a woman in the front row pressed him to ban abortion in the city.
The opposition has been largely led by one outsider: Mark Lee Dickson. Maskless, with a backwards baseball cap, Dickson raised his hand from the corner of the room.
"We’re moving on," Pope said. "Mr. Dickson do you have a different question because we’re moving on from this topic…"
Dickson’s a 34-year-old with Right to Life East Texas. He’s charged himself with pushing cities around Texas to ban abortion. Under his guidance, 16 have adopted an ordinance declaring themselves, “sanctuary cities for the unborn.” Meaning abortions in those cities are illegal--it is important to note however that abortion services were not previously offered at any of these 16 cities prior to the ordinance.
"My intention was never to come to Lubbock,” Dickson said. But his group has online petitions in circulation around Texas. It helps them pinpoint communities that have interest in becoming sanctuary cities.
“We kept getting a whole lot of signatures in Lubbock though… when planned parenthood announced [their return] people said hey what can we do?”
With around 250 thousand residents, Lubbock would be by far his largest conquest. The group recently submitted a petition to bring the ordinance to city council. They needed 3,651 signatures. Dickson says they got over 5000.
Lubbock's healthcare gap
Kate Peaslee has lived in Lubbock for over 10 years and is a lifelong Planned Parenthood supporter. She recently stepped in as the clinic’s public affairs consultant.
“We know that if we look at it as a numbers game, we are outnumbered,” she said. “That’s no surprise.
“We also live here, and we want to help Lubbock be a city that serves all of our needs not just some of our needs,” she continued.
City of Lubbock Public Health Director Katherine Wells was unavailable for an interview, but in an email she said, “Not many communities have adequate healthcare for women that’s both accessibly and affordable. Lubbock sees late diagnoses for breast and cervical cancers. And high rates of sexually transmitted infections. In fact, the city ranks seventh in the state for the most STD cases—Syphilis is a concern right now. She says, increasing access to women's health care can improve these rates.”
Peaslee believes that although Planned Parenthood provides abortions, the organization does more to prevent the need for an abortion than any other entity by providing preventative healthcare. “Preventative exams, access to birth control, STI and STD testing—it’s all connected,” she said.
Planned Parenthood closed its Lubbock office in 2013. Around that time, Texas legislation cut funding for
family planning and imposed strict restrictions on medical clinics providing abortions. This ultimately led to the closing of 25% of family planning clinics throughout the state.
Wheat said, “What that looked like in Texas geographically was there were no Planned Parenthoods west of I-35.”
For Texas Tech Alumna Aubrey Reinhardt, it made ti difficult to get birth control. She recalled the experience she had with a local medical clinic.
“I had gotten upset because [the doctor] was basically telling me even at 19, 20 years old that I was too unhealthy to be on birth control.” Reinhardt had never been told she had a health issues preventing her from taking birth control before. The clinic didn’t offer her alternatives.
“Of course I’m upset—this was a shock to me,” she said. She fought back her tears as the doctor came back into the room. “Why are you crying,” the doctor asked. “Why are you in such a hurry to become sexually active?”
Reinhardt left upset. She called Planned Parenthood to ask for the nearest clinic and wound up driving five hours to Dallas just to get birth control.
The experience pushed Reinhardt to become an advocate for women’s rights. She’s an assistant district attorney in Amarillo.
“Without [Planned Parenthood], I don’t know how long it would have taken me to get the birth control that I needed.”
Lubbock has affordable options for those without insurance—two places actually. However, family planning is not their only focus. So, getting immediate care might be a challenge. Wheat says Planned Parenthood will help.
“For somebody who maybe hasn’t had quick access or can’t get in or just feels like gosh I’d really like to get that STI testing, we’re just one more resource that’s in the community.”
The ordinance will likely be brought to the public for a vote in May. Planned Parenthood’s Sarah Wheat said she’s used to dealing with uncertainty.
“To provide abortions in Texas, which we’ve done for decades, there is always some new challenge ahead… We don’t know what’s ahead but we have a commitment to doing what we can to making these services accessible wherever possible.”
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