AUSTIN -- It's Sept. 23 and William Truict service manager at Brake Check in Austin, Texas, is wondering about his new neighbor, the Choice Project. People from Planned Parenthood's new flagship facility have already made nice with the folks at Brake Check, one day bringing over barbecue for lunch. Today is the Choice Project's ribbon-cutting ceremony, so the slice of Planned Parenthood property behind Mr. Truict's shop looks downright festive: white open-air tent, rows of white folding chairs, balloons and ribbon in yellow and bubble-gum pink.
"I have a question," Mr. Truict asks a reporter who stopped in at Brake Check to gauge local reaction to the new facility. "Do they actually do abortions there?"
"Yes," says the reporter. "They also provide other healthcare services to women."
"Oh. I was under the impression that they didn't. So they actually do abortions there . . ." Mr. Truict says, staring off.
"What did you think they did?" the reporter asks.
"Help plan families."
Smiley-face marketing had promoted the Choice Project as a sturdy, inviting, one-stop-shop for women's reproductive healthcare, so Mr. Truict's impression isn't surprising. But despite the balloons and a national public-relations effort, the words "Planned Parenthood" and "abortion" remain linked. Nationally, the federally funded group performs 225,000 abortions annually, with a reported yearly income of over $690 million.
Even all that cash couldn't keep the construction on schedule at Planned Parenthood's newest Texas facility-or put out the prairie fire that, ribbon-cutting aside, will keep the facility from opening its doors on time. Texas Contractors and Suppliers for Life, a grassroots pro-life group, organized an unprecedented construction boycott that hampered Planned Parenthood's progress for nearly a year-and triggered a wave of similar pro-life boycotts across the state.
At last week's ribbon-cutting, the Austin boycott's most obvious effect was the gaping void where the administration and education wing should've been standing. So desperate was Planned Parenthood to fill that space with concrete (and thereby avoid holding the Sept. 23 ceremony near a giant hole in the ground), it offered suppliers $200 per yard of concrete-four times its value-to pour a foundation. For weeks, no supplier took the bait. But just three days before the ceremony, a company called Yarrington Concrete broke the boycott, trucking in the concrete on a Sunday night.
By now Planned Parenthood should be used to that kind of 11th-hour nip and tuck. Texas Contractors and Suppliers for Life (TCSL), headed by no-nonsense concrete contractor and pro-life activist Chris Danze, last fall convinced 18 Austin-area concrete companies to refuse to supply concrete for the Choice Project. The boycott, which spread to other trades, finally drove away from the project the state's top general contractor, Browning Construction. The boycott delayed construction for months.
In January Planned Parenthood recruited another general contractor, Austin local Curtis Cline. It subcontracted slab-pouring to a financially and legally troubled concrete supplier who decided to provide the concrete for the 25,000-square-foot facility. Under cover of darkness on Jan. 28, trucks rolled onto the Choice Project job site and poured concrete from Rainbow Materials, whose owner, Ramon Carrasquillo, has faced prosecution for water pollution and related environmental violations.
After the boycott-breaking pour, Rainbow's sales numbers climbed. When CapMetro, the Austin area's mass transit authority, needed 14 acres of thick, reinforced concrete for a new bus-maintenance facility, Rainbow scored a significant portion of the plum contract, which was controlled by Curtis Cline.
Whether a quid pro quo connection existed between the bus-company contract and Rainbow's rescuing Mr. Cline from his Choice Project concrete dilemma is unclear. But federal authorities received complaints that Mr. Cline, in managing the bus-company contract, violated set-aside requirements designed to assist minority and disadvantaged businesses. Officials on Aug. 4 quietly removed from the project Mr. Cline and his concrete subcontractors, including Rainbow Materials.
Former Rainbow executives Mark Hamilton and Curtis Bruner have said that Mr. Carasquillo hoped to salvage his own business by supplying the Choice Project concrete. He abandoned the boycott, they said, after receiving a phone call from someone who promised to make his legal and financial problems "go away." Mr. Carrasquillo denies that. After nine months of public silence, he told WORLD that he decided to sell the concrete because he was obligated to protect the livelihood of his 100 employees and the well-being of their families.
Friends, colleagues, and opponents describe him as kind and generous. He describes himself as a devout Catholic who grew up in Catholic schools and still goes to mass every Sunday where his daughter is an altar girl. He said he "detests" abortion, but makes allowances in cases of rape or poverty.
"We are all Catholic and we all carry a Book and we all carry a cross and we all try to keep a balance," he said. "When the day comes, I hope I'm more on the pluses than the minuses. But that's a personal thing. . . . [My workers] have hung around with me in all of these tight economical situations and they're not hanging with me because I am putting my religious convictions above the business. They're hanging around with me because they believe I'm going to do what's legal and what's correct, but I'm doing what's best for business."
Mr. Carrasquillo said he doesn't have much respect for those who organize boycotts and protests. He said that in January he unsuccessfully invited TCSL contractors to join him in trying to address the causes of abortion by helping young mothers with free daycare, transportation, and school books. "That is a much tougher job than going there and standing in front of the Planned Parenthood building, and being a Superman, and making a lot of noise." There is no need, he said, for hardball tactics.
Mr. Danze said he can't account for all behavior of all pro-lifers, but defended TCSL's actions as "legal and ethical. We won't cross over to the illegal."
The management of the lucrative bus-facility contract may turn out to have been illegal, but even the money from that job couldn't save Rainbow. Still $5 million in debt, Mr. Carrasquillo on June 15 sold the firm to a competitor who, as it turned out, is a firm supporter of TCSL's pro-life boycott. That pinched Planned Parenthood again, shutting off the only ready source of concrete for the Choice Project. With no supplier, subcontractors were reduced to building curbs with concrete mixed in wheelbarrows "one bag at a time," according to Mr. Danze.
"If Ramon [Carrasquillo] hadn't caved they might still be waiting on concrete," said Mr. Danze. Still, he's not disappointed with the way events have unfolded. TCSL has already met its goals, he said: to stop construction or at least slow it down, and to make the process more expensive for Planned Parenthood.
Mr. Danze believes the boycott is a public-relations disaster for Planned Parenthood. TCSL's experience showed that it sometimes takes as little as one phone call to persuade a contractor to steer clear of working for an abortion business: "Pro-life people all over the country will say, 'Let's do that here!'" he said.
Some, at least in Texas, already have. Inspired by the success in Austin, the Houston Coalition for Life is organizing a construction boycott of a 45,000-square-foot abortion center in that city. The groups sent out 1,000 letters to Houston-area contractors in August.
In Dallas, the Catholic Pro-Life Committee is heading an effort to delay the retrofit of an Aaron's Women's Center abortion center to meet state standards for late-term abortion facilities. To comply with Texas law, late-term clinics now must be equipped to perform surgeries. Roel Garcia, an electrician and a minister, did not know he was working on an abortion business. After learning what would go on inside the Women's Center building, he walked away from the job.
Pro-lifers in Lufkin, Texas, are gearing up to boycott Planned Parenthood's likely attempt to "upgrade" its facility there to an abortion center. Mr. Danze expects them to succeed since Lufkin is a small city, making peer pressure and community standards powerful weapons.
Meanwhile in Austin, the Choice Project wing remains a mere slab in the ground, and Planned Parenthood by law cannot obtain a permanent certificate of occupancy until the entire project is done. The city can issue up to 60 days of temporary permits, but a city building inspector and boycott leaders expect Austin's famously liberal political hierarchy to exert pressure, allowing Planned Parenthood to slide along on temporary permits as long as it needs to.
And it may need to: Mr. Danze said a second-string general contractor and third-tier subcontractors may take weeks to complete the project. He has no illusions of stopping Planned Parenthood, but if delays carry into the holidays, the center is unlikely to open until well into 2005.
-with reporting by Courtney Russell