Last week, Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando announced some pretty big news. For the first time since 2006, when it opened its downtown health center, it has plans to open a new facility. The new Planned Parenthood will be located in Kissimmee, where 47 percent of the population is Hispanic/Latino, according to the 2012 Census. That number is significant because of health disparities faced by the Hispanic community: According to a 2013 Community Health Improvement Plan for Osceola County, the Hispanic population suffers from greater incidences of diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality. Planned Parenthood says that Hispanic/Latina women, in particular, face additional concerns. Breast cancer, for instance, is the leading cause of cancer deaths for Latinas, and Latina women are two times as likely to die from cervical cancer – a condition that is often highly treatable if it’s caught early. Four in 10 Latina teens will become pregnant before the age of 20, and access to primary health care providers is notoriously limited in Osceola County – the region is federally designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area. All the more reason, according to Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, for the organization to open a reproductive health care clinic there.
“As the greater Central Florida community has grown, so has the need for high-quality, affordable health services,” Jenna Tosh, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, says. “The new health center will strengthen our ability to provide Osceola County residents with the essential reproductive health care services they need.”
The new clinic, scheduled to open at the end of May, will have eight exam rooms, four counseling rooms and space for educational seminars, Tosh says. It will offer HIV testing, reproductive health screenings, birth control and other crucial services, as well as access to safe and legal abortion.
Not everyone in the community is welcoming the clinic to Kissimmee, though – Dr. John Littel sent an email to the Weekly immediately after Planned Parenthood announced the new clinic’s opening, stating that he and a group of concerned citizens would be speaking up at a Kissimmee City Commission meeting to protest. Calling the new Planned Parenthood an “8,000-square-foot surgical abortion facility,” the group descended on the city’s commission meeting on April 1 to voice their complaints. They argue that there are plenty of low-cost and free clinics operating in Kissimmee and Osceola County, so the new clinic is neither wanted nor needed.
According to reports in the Osceola News Gazette, nearly 100 protesters turned up (not all of them hailed from Osceola County, according to the publication) and complained about everything from traffic to safety to the clinic being bad for business. But obviously, safety and business were not the real concern – “No one likes the reality of the abortion procedure and all that surrounds it,” a statement released on April 2 pointed out. In other words, not in our backyard.
Some news reports seemed to indicate that most of the commission and Mayor Jim Swan were not in favor of having the clinic in Kissimmee. But Swan says that he is neutral on the matter – he calls abortion a “personal decision” – and that even if he did want to express a stance, the city has no power over whether the facility opens or not, because it conforms with the property’s zoning, use and building codes.
“I have been very frustrated in that we have no authority one way or the other over this,” he says. “We were kind of being blamed by those who are opposed to the whole deal.
So it’s been a frustrating week. To say the least.”
Likely frustrating for Planned Parenthood, as well. When asked for her response to the complaints about the clinic being raised in Kissimmee, Tosh rises above the fray.
“One in five American women has relied on Planned Parenthood for professional, nonjudgmental care at some point in her life,” she said in a statement emailed in response to questions on April 7. “If the protesters outside of Planned Parenthood health centers were truly committed to reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, they would work with Planned Parenthood to increase access to affordable birth control and sex education.”