May 22—Foundation for Life Toledo now owns a parking lot across the street from Capital Care of Toledo, a move local anti-abortion leaders believe furthers efforts to dissuade the clinic's patients from seeking abortions.
Capital Care is Toledo's only abortion clinic and offers medication abortions. It has limited parking on site, and so patients often park at the lot across North Haven Avenue previously owned by Superior Uniform Sales Inc. The sale to Foundation for Life for $35,000 closed in March, Lucas County property records show.
The organization is encouraging patients to continue to park in the lot, but patient escorts and clinic employees are not welcome on the property.
"It's not our mission to make their job any easier," said Ed Sitter, Foundation for Life's Toledo director.
Patient escorts are volunteers who walk with patients from their cars to the clinic doors and back and shield them from anti-abortion protestors if they do not want to engage. Before Foundation for Life bought the parking lot, escorts could meet patients at their cars upon arrival, but now they must wait on the public sidewalk.
"Previously when patients would park there, we would go over, let them know that this isn't our parking lot, if they wanted to stay there we could walk them over if they'd like us to," said Kristin Hady, volunteer coordinator for clinic escorts. "What use do they have for the lot other than to trick and harass patients who unknowingly park there?"
Peter Range, director of the Office for Life and Justice at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo, hosts monthly prayer vigils and sidewalk counseling outside the Capital Care clinic. He said the parking lot now provides a dedicated space to both stage prayer vigils and to talk with women who are considering abortions without interruption from patient escorts.
"All during the time the property was for sale, we could still have conversations there, but often a sidewalk escort would come and interrupt us," he said. "We have the ability to speak with these moms and have more calm and more in-depth conversations, and we'll have more opportunities to do that as it's right across the street."
There are now competing signs stuck in the grass near the parking lot entrance. Patient escorts put up one that says "No Clinic Parking At Any Time," while the anti-abortion group put up one that says "Patient Parking Welcome."
"It is a not even thinly veiled attempt at tricking patients into parking there where nobody has access to them," Ms. Hady said, adding that the escorts are letting patients know of the parking lot's ownership change.
Ms. Hady said the owner of the building that houses Capital Care offered to buy the parking lot before Foundation for Life made its offer. Their plan was to have staff and escorts park in the lot so patients could use the limited parking spots around the clinic and away from protesters.
Instead, Superior Uniform sold the lot to Foundation for Life. Mr. Sitter said the Patient Safety Ordinance introduced in February by Toledo City Councilmen Nick Komives, Theresa Gadus, and Vanice Williams prompted the organization to look into buying the lot.
The property had initially been listed at $70,000, and donors came through with the $35,000 offer that was ultimately accepted, Mr. Sitter said.
The Patient Safety Ordinance remains in committee, but if approved it would create a 100-foot buffer zone around the abortion clinic where it would be illegal to get within eight feet of a patient without their consent or to obstruct a patient's access to a reproductive health care facility. Mr. Komives at the time said he introduced the legislation after witnessing patients being harassed by the sidewalk counselors and protesters trying to block patients from entering the building.
"We're just excited about the fact that this gives us the opportunity to have some interaction with their patients that decide to park there and have that not be interfered with," Mr. Sitter said of the parking-lot acquisition.