When Jill Hartman looks out the window of her office on the western edge of Lancaster, she can see the building housing the new Planned Parenthood location on Manor Street.
The executive director of A Woman’s Concern Pregnancy & Parenting Resource Center, a Lancaster-based nonprofit organization offering pregnancy, sexual health and parenting aid, said her organization picked the location on Manor Street in the west-end of the city four years ago because of the amount of foot traffic and the number of at-risk mothers in the neighborhood.
Hartman said it was probably those same reasons Planned Parenthood Keystone chose to set up in the same footprint as her group that seeks to help women find alternatives to abortions and provide support throughout their pregnancies.
Hartman said she was taken aback by the news that broke in The Lancaster Patriot last week regarding the location of the Planned Parenthood. Since it was reported, Hartman said A Woman’s Concern has been contacted by local pro-life groups looking for ways to counter the opening and that “there’s a base that is angry and upset” about the clinic coming back to Lancaster and offering abortions for the first time in the county.
“They’ve been fighting it for years, and they feel really lucky that Lancaster did not have an abortion clinic in our city,” Hartman said. “And now, you can wave a magic wand, and they’re here. I mean, do people really want that in their backyard?”
Hartman said one of the biggest insults she sees with the choice of the location is that it formerly housed the Abbey Book & Gift Shop, a Christian-oriented bookstore owned by the late Vonda Kirchner who passed away in 2020. According to her obituary, Kirchner was a “devout Catholic” and a founding member of the Perpetual Adorations at St. Joseph Chapel and the Altar Rosary Society at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lancaster, along with being a 3rd order Dominican at the former Lititz Pike Monastery.
“We went from a Christian bookstore and gift shop to an abortion clinic,” Hartman said. “Do we want that in our community?”
Planned Parenthood Keystone made its official opening announcement of the Lancaster location Tuesday morning, marking its ninth facility in Central Pennsylvania.
In its press release, Planned Parenthood called the opening a “significant milestone” for the region. The organization said it was conducting a capital campaign for the last two years after the previous Lancaster location on South Lime Street closed its doors at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it still served more than 2,000 Lancaster patients in that time through its telehealth service.
Melissa Reed, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Keystone, said in the press release that the U.S. is in a “national abortion crisis,” and the facility “will provide the community with access to the health care they deserve.”
“Our long-awaited return to Lancaster has become a reality as we triumphantly opened our doors today to provide non-judgmental, compassionate, and expert care to the community,” Reed said in the press release. “This momentous occasion is the result of the enduring generosity and support of our Lancaster donors and advocates. We are grateful for their unrelenting commitment to making this return possible.”
The new facility, called the Dr. Daniel D. Wert Health Center at Lancaster, is named after a local retired anesthesiologist and what the group called a “long-time supporter, donor and volunteer of Planned Parenthood Keystone.”
“In recent years, reproductive justice in health care has become an important interest of mine,” Wert said in a press release. “I therefore consider it a privilege and an honor to be associated with our new Planned Parenthood Keystone health center here in Lancaster. We will be providing excellent, professional, compassionate and non-judgmental health care to our beloved community.”
While the press release mentioned services that will be offered by the facility, including “family planning, wellness visits, breast exams, cancer screenings, gender affirming hormone therapy and more,” abortion was specifically left off the release.
Reed told several media outlets last week, including CBS 21 News in Harrisburg, that the facility will offer “medical abortions” that “involves a two-pill regimen,” terminating the pregnancy. Reed told CBS 21 that the pills are “appropriate for people up to 11 weeks of gestation.”
“After she’s had her informed consent and required blood work, she would take the first pill and then take the second pill home with her and take that within 24-48 hours to complete the abortion,” Reed said in the CBS 21 interview.
To conduct abortions at the facility, the Pennsylvania Department of Health requires abortion providers to attain a “transfer agreement” for emergency treatment with a local hospital within 30 minutes of the facility for patients suffering complications. Previous attempts by Planned Parenthood to provide abortions in the county were denied, in part because a transfer agreement could not be reached.
Reed told media outlets last week that Planned Parenthood expects to secure the transfer agreement “soon.”
But in social media posts last week, Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons said local hospitals should think about the consequences of signing on to Planned Parenthood’s transfer agreement request. Parsons said he would “anticipate” any hospital accepting the transfer agreement “will see many people and organizations, including Lancaster County government, reevaluate relationships they have with such an organization.”
Parsons said the Declaration of Independence “clearly articulated” that life is the fundamental unalienable right and that “governments are created to protect these rights.”
“The vast majority of the citizens of Lancaster County, myself included, are opposed to Planned Parenthood’s stated mission to bring abortion on demand to Lancaster County,” Parsons said in his statement. “Any hospital cooperating with them in this mission would be not only acting against the wishes of this majority of citizens, but also acting in opposition to the fundamentals of the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm.”
Commissioner Ray D’Agostino followed suit with his own statement on social media, also citing the Declaration of Independence’s statement of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the basis of governance. D’Agostino said the Lancaster community “believes in the fundamental right to life.”
“Planned Parenthood’s announcement that they intend to bring abortion to Lancaster County is abhorrent and reprehensible,” D’Agostino said in his statement. “The majority of Lancastrians made their stance known previously on abortion in this community and will do so again.”
Fellow Commissioner John Trescot disagreed with his Republican counterparts, telling CBS 21 that he is a “strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose.”
“Having abortion restrictions don’t reduce the number of abortions, it just reduces the number of legal abortions,” Trescot said in the CBS 21 interview. “So, I’d much rather have people go in where they have medication and where they are under supervision.”
Tuesday’s opening of the abortion facility triggered additional community reactions.
Pro-life groups planned on staging a demonstration outside the building on the 900 block of Manor Street.
Rep. Lloyd Smucker issued a statement on Planned Parenthood offering chemical abortions at the facility, calling it a “sad day for our community” if abortions are permitted in Lancaster.
“I believe strongly in the sanctity of life and know many of my fellow Lancastrians share the same sentiment,” Smucker said in his statement. “I vehemently oppose their plans to offer chemical abortion services.”
Efforts were made in the late-1990s to conduct abortions at the former South Lime Street Planned Parenthood location, but community opposition and zoning issues with the building kept any medical procedures from being conducted on site.
Michael Geer, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Family Institute in Harrisburg, was one of the leading local voices the last time Planned Parenthood sought to conduct abortions in the county, serving with Lancaster United for Life in the late-1990s.
Geer said an “outpouring of support throughout the county” helped keep medical abortions from coming to Lancaster. But he said the fact that Planned Parenthood now seeks to conduct chemical abortions instead of medical ones doesn’t make it any less tragic.
Geer said the chemical abortion pills have known side-effects, including increased bleeding in the mother that can lead to emergency room visits.
“There’s still a wide swath of pro-life people in the county who will be very troubled at this news if they haven’t heard it already,” Geer said. “Those who have heard already have started to coalesce, to work to see how they can possibly stop this or in some ways impact Planned Parenthood’s efforts to do abortions there.”
Michael Yoder is an award-winning journalist who has been honored with several Keystone Press Awards for his investigative pieces. He has been crafting stories for daily, weekly, and monthly publications for more than two decades in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. He has interviewed everyone from Academy Award-winners and Rock & Roll Hall of Famers to presidential hopefuls and members of Congress. Michael was born and raised in Lancaster County and joined The Lancaster Patriot in 2022.