At about 5:25 p.m. Thursday, 42 opponents of abortion gathered around the base of The Downtown Center while, four stories above them, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska held an open house.

The open house, which ran from 5 to 8 p.m., was held the night before a five-hour policy summit, which Planned Parenthood supporters will hold today in the same location. 308 N. Locust St., Suite 401, in Grand Island.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska is the 501(c)(4) entity of the Planned Parenthood organization that serves the state, said Meg Mikolajczyk, who is deputy director of Planned Parenthood North Central States in Nebraska. She is also deputy director and legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska.

The organization has had an advocacy staff member working on the fourth floor of The Downtown Center since the summer. That person, Jon Marx, is the advocacy strategist for the Third Congressional District.

But Planned Parenthood has had a presence in the Tri-Cities longer than that.

“My team has been in the Tri-Cities for the last four years,” Mikolajczyk said. The organization hasn’t had an office, but it has had a presence.

“Planned Parenthood is really excited to be part of the Tri-Cities community,” Mikolajczyk said. “For quite some time, our patients and our donors and our supporters have been asking us to be part of this community, and we’re thrilled to be here.”

The opponents of abortion described their concurrent gathering as a prayerful protest.

“We are here just to show Planned Parenthood that there are a bunch of local pro-life people that are not supporting them bringing in any clinics or services into the Tri-Cities area,” said Amanda Frasier of Hastings, who is president of South Central Nebraska Right to Life,

The abortion foes were gathered at the corner of North Locust and West Third Street.

This is the fourth year in a row that Planned Parenthood supporters have had a summit in the Tri-Cities, Mikolajczyk said. It is the third one in Grand Island. The other one was in Kearney. One of those summits was “a little more electorally focused,” she said. Today’s gathering “will be focused on the Legislature and general policy.”

Marx does education work in the Tri-Cities, Mikolajczyk said. With him, “we can do community outreach. We can connect grass roots folks to the work we do,” she said.

At today’s policy summit, “We’ll have some educators out here to talk about their programs as well.” Mikolajczyk said.

“We also have a program called PP Direct. It’s an app that you have on your phone where you can get some health care through Planned Parenthood anywhere, regardless of how far you are away from a health center. So those are some of the ways we can connect with the community here.”

Being a part of the Nebraska Counts Committee, the Planned Parenthood organization is doing some work related to the federal census. “And we have broad coalitions across the state with a lot of different partners,” Mikolajczyk said.

Frasier said that much of what Planned Parenthood proposes to offer “is already covered here in the Tri-City area.” Churches, pregnancy centers and other organizations provide STD testing, pregnancy testing, and limited ultrasound. Those organizations provide care and compassion, she said, to women who experience unexpected pregnancies.

The only service Planned Parenthood would bring to the Tri-Cities that’s not available now is abortion, Frasier said.

“They’re in it for the almighty dollar and that’s something that we want to stress,” Frasier said.

Already in the Tri-Cities area, Planned Parenthood offers patient advocacy, outreach programs, a speakers’ bureau and college organizing, Mikolajczyk said.

In addition to holding policy summits, the organization’s work also includes door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, meeting with college students and meeting with donors, Mikolajczyk said.

Planned Parenthood of North Central States is a health care provider, Mikolajczyk said. The organization provides “non-judgmental, completely inclusive health care regardless of who you love, where you live, religious faith — all of those things. People really like coming to us because they know when they come to us we’ll provide them with care no matter what.”

The policy summit runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. today.

A special prayer event will run at St. Mary’s Cathedral while the summit is going on.

The Cathedral will offer adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today, says the Rev. Jim Golka, pastor of St. Mary’s. The Rev. Joseph Hanefeldt, bishop of the Grand Island Catholic diocese, will be present at 3:30 p.m. for benediction.

The purpose of today’s special time of prayer “is to encourage people to continue to pray for an end to abortion in our nation and also to stop the presence of (the) Planned Parenthood organization from entering the Tri-Cities area,” Golka said.

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