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The undeveloped lot cornering Birmingham’s First Avenue North and I-65 is empty, save for fast-food wrappers, neglected grass, and a few “No Trespassing” signs.
From a nearby overpass, commuters eying the skyline of Alabama’s Magic City probably wouldn’t notice the lot, but they may soon if proposed construction materializes. Planned Parenthood Southeast has spent $430,600 to secure the spot with the intent to relocate its current Birmingham center to the downtown property.
The possibility of the abortion industry kingpin occupying such a visible piece of Alabama real estate has set pro-lifers on edge.
“When people drive into our city, they can see all these cool things from the interstate—Vulcan [Park], Regions Field, Railroad Park,” Pastor Terry Gensemer of CEC for Life told a crowd in June. (CEC is an acronym for Charismatic Episcopal Church.) “Imagine a huge Planned Parenthood sitting front and center to all of that. It could become the symbol of Birmingham.”
High visibility isn’t the only concern. Gensemer says his group believes, based on public records and their own investigations, that the last abortion at a Planned Parenthood in Birmingham happened over a year ago. He hopes the new location doesn’t change that: “Birmingham is virtually abortion free, and we want to keep it that way.”
It isn’t that Planned Parenthood hasn’t tried to facilitate more abortions. The Alabama Department of Public Health in 2010 put the Birmingham location on probation after a Live Action sting revealed the center failed to report a claim of statutory rape. The felonious undertow continued in 2014, when officials shuttered the facility for 10 months. This time employees were selling drugs in the parking lot.
As director of Birmingham Bound4Life, Natalie Brumfield knows from public records that her city’s Planned Parenthood branch has a laundry list of other, less-publicized violations—improper hand washing, poor records management, botched abortions, failure to sterilize medical instruments. For more than 10 years, she’s been a regular on the sidewalks outside Planned Parenthood’s aging building. She’s prayed, counseled, and worn Bound4Life’s trademark red mouth tape.
“The idea is to show we’re praying, not protesting. We’re pleading with a higher court and displaying solidarity with the voiceless,” Brumfield explains. “I’ve had women and boyfriends come pray with me. Sometimes they change their minds.”
The 35-year-old blogger is also true to Bound4Life’s adoption emphasis. She and her husband, Matthew, began fostering within 14 months of saying “I do” and have since adopted three children. The oldest was on his way to a special facility before they stepped in. “We were his fifth, and last, chance,” Natalie recalls. “At the time, we were the only foster family in Alabama that didn’t have other children in the home, and that’s what Braxton had to have.”
The court action decreeing Braxton a Brumfield has been posted on YouTube. Featuring Mandi Mapes’ adoption theme song, “This Love,” the video depicts the 6-year-old sporting his favorite light red blazer and his new mom in red pumps.
The Brumfields’ pro-life efforts have attracted the attention of French documentary makers. A journalist and a cameraman in July flew from Paris to watch the family cook lunch, go to church, and say grace. “They wanted to know what being pro-life had to do with our faith,” Natalie recalled. “They couldn’t believe the kids had Bibles and actually read them.”
Natalie traces her concern for the unborn to age 7, when she accompanied her dad to pray outside a Jackson, Miss., abortion center. The pair became a fixture on the sidewalks, so much so that someone inside the facility notified them when a family friend made an appointment to terminate her secret pregnancy.
“To this day, we don’t know who called, but we reached out to the young woman and she chose the gift of adoption. I experienced the difference loving on someone can make, and it put a passion in me,” Brumfield remembers. The passion continued during her years at the University of Georgia. “I was around girls making these kinds of choices, and I spoke about it as chaplain of my sorority. I spoke life into girls.”
Speaking life into girls is a goal of her work in Alabama, too. As she counsels at a local crisis pregnancy center, Brumfield sees new hope: Alabama voters in November decided to add language to their state constitution that recognizes the rights of unborn children.
Meanwhile, the lot at First Avenue North and I-65 remains much as it was. Garbage collects in mud puddles. Mourning doves, with their sorrowful calls, light and leave. Still, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Barbara Ann Luttrell said a 2019 groundbreaking is imminent.
For his part, pastor Gensemer predicts the organization will have a hard time finding building contractors in Birmingham: “We’ve already contacted some by registered letter. We’re going to fight this prayerfully, legally, and peacefully.”