Matter of choice

Pregnancy counseling center will neighbor abortion clinic

By Bridget Hall, Staff Writer, Ocala Star-Banner

OCALA — Lori Chamblin says she supports choice. That is why she and her husband are building a pregnancy counseling center just north of the Ocala Women’s Center abortion clinic.

“We just want to give women all the information so they can make that choice,” Chamblin said. “We’re not here to coerce or judge but to giveinformation so they know all of the options that are available.”

Chamblin, director of the Alpha Women’s Center that will open in the next month or two, said many women in crisis pregnancies don’t know there are places they can get clothes for themselves and the baby, baby furniture, and help with housing, medical and financial needs.

The location next to Dr. James Pendergraft’s clinic is key, Chamblin said, because pregnant women are not getting that information there.

“When women are presented with information about only one option, they may feel that’s their only choice,” she said.

Pendergraft, who filed a lawsuit last December against the anti-abortion protesters who picket his practice and against local law enforcement for not providing off-duty officers, is suspicious of his new neighbor.

“He doubts that they are purely there for counseling purposes,” his spokeswoman Marti Mackenzie said. “He feels this may be a terrorist approach to surveillance, and he will continue to aggressively protect his property and his people.”

In his lawsuit, Pendergraft charges that protesters have harassed patients and staff and used video cameras to record who comes and goes. He is asking the court to keep protesters at least 75 feet from his property line, limit protests to five people for only one hour twice a week, and prevent protesters from using words like “butcher” or “baby killer.”

The Rev. Ed Martin, a defendant in the lawsuit and leader of the abortion protesters, said he has not seen anyone harass clinic staff and patients. He also said he has nothing to do with the Alpha Women’s Center.

“They’re doing their thing and we’re doing ours,” Martin said. “We’re friends, but (nothing) beyond that.”

Chamblin also said she is not affiliated with the anti-abortion protesters and that Pendergraft has nothing to fear from the counseling center.

“We are not into surveillance, we are here to provide services,” she said. “We’re not here to run Dr. Pendergraft out of town. He has a legitimate business that is legal and allowed in our community. Just as he’s providing services to women, we’re providing services to women also.”

Pendergraft’s clinic opened last July. When the vacant lot to the north became available weeks later, Chamblin, then director of the Women’s Pregnancy Center on E. Silver Springs Boulevard, encouraged the center to look at setting up a satellite office or moving their operations to that site.

“It was pretty much a cash deal, and we didn’t have the money and we didn’t want to go into debt,” said Francis Frick, president of the WPC board. “We weren’t in a position to make an offer on it, and if you don’t have the money to buy, there’s no use in thinking of what you’d do with it.”

But Chamblin said she felt she had to do something with the land, so she tendered her resignation and set out to open her own pregnancy counseling center.

She and her husband Roscoe put the down payment on the $95,000-lot last September and closed the deal several months later. The Chamblins and their friend Charlana Kelly formed Good News for Life, Inc. as the parent non-profit organization that will run the counseling center.

“I felt like this location was probably one of the most important locations in Ocala, considering the issues we’re dealing with,” she said. “It’s very visible, and there’s room to expand.”

The building on the lot now is a refurbished construction office brought from St. Petersburg. It has two counseling rooms, a private office and a waiting area, but is just the temporary facility until a permanent building is put on the front part of the property.

The plans for that building include four counseling rooms, two closets for donated clothes, a conference room and a day-care center for the volunteers’ children. Chamblin said she hopes to start construction on that building as soon as the temporary building opens.

Chamblin said the center has received about $3,000 in cash donations plus volunteer labor to clear the lot, set up the building, build the deck, lay the carpet and put up the window dressings. Much of the labor has been done by Roscoe Chamblin, a construction contractor. The center still needs office equipment and money for brochures before it can open, Lori Chamblin said.

Pendergraft’s attorney, Roy Lucas, said the counseling center is legal and he cannot prevent it from opening. He has concerns, though, because he said some other counseling centers next to abortion clinics have used harassment techniques — including locking women into rooms and forcing them to watch gory videos — to prevent them from having abortions.

But Chamblin said the Alpha Women’s Center has strict policies to make sure women are not forced into anything.

She said counselors cannot close the door without the client’s permission, and the client does not watch a video unless she reads a description of it and signs a form saying she wants to view it. The client must be advised at the beginning that she is free to leave anytime, and the furniture cannot be arranged in a way that obstructs her path to the door.

Those guidelines came from the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a legal resource organization that the Alpha Women’s Center joined for advice on how to operate within the law.

“We will follow those guidelines to the letter,” Chamblin said. “We won’t use emotional manipulation to educate and counsel women.”

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