The Kenai Peninsula’s only Planned Parenthood is one of several locations closing at the end of the month.
The Soldotna center has been around for about 30 years, administering birth control, STD testing and other services from its building on East Redoubt Avenue.
But, as first reported by the Alaska Beacon, the sexual and reproductive health nonprofit has spent months rethinking how it operates and how it can consolidate locations.
Katie Rodihan is spokesperson for the Planned Parenthood affiliates in six states, including Alaska. She said the closure — along with five others in the affiliate group — comes at the end of a review from the organization.
“We started it as we knew we were entering what would likely be the end of the constitutional right to abortion,” she said. “Because we had heard the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in December and could tell, unfortunately, which direction the court was leaning.”
The Soldotna location doesn’t offer procedure abortions, though Rodihan said it does offer medication abortions and abortion referrals. And at this time, Alaska would keep its right to abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
But Rodihan said the organization is looking to free up budgets to make way for changes that could come up in states with so-called trigger laws, which would ban abortion upon a Roe reversal. Some of those states, including Kentucky and Idaho, are in Alaska’s affiliate group.
The closest Planned Parenthood location to Soldotna will be in Anchorage, a three-hour drive away.
That center does provide procedural abortions, as do the centers in Juneau and Fairbanks. Rodihan said some services, including prescriptions of birth control and emergency morning-after pills, can be done via telemedicine. She said the nonprofit has been investing more money on its telemedicine capacities, especially in rural communities.
“And between the Anchorage health center’s capacity and what we’re able to provide on telemedicine, because we’ve really been investing in telemed, we felt comfortable that our patients can continue to access Planned Parenthood services,” she said.
Peggy Mullen, of Soldotna, helped start the Planned Parenthood center three decades ago. She thinks it started as a response to protests of a doctor who provided abortions in Kenai.
Organizers thought about which of two groups they could align themselves with.
One was the National Abortion Rights Action League.
“And the other was Planned Parenthood,” Mullen said. “And we knew that there was a Planned Parenthood in Anchorage.”
The director from that Anchorage location came down to speak about getting a branch started.
Mullen said there was a fondness among the founders for Planned Parenthood, in particular, since teens felt comfortable there. Plus, they saw it as somewhat of a middle ground — the center could prescribe birth control to women so they would be less likely to need abortions in the first place.
They set up a Sunday fundraiser at a local restaurant. Turns out it was Super Bowl Sunday.
“We were not paying attention to that at all,” Mullen said. “Fortunately, a lot of wonderful men showed up with their partners.”
Over the years, she said the organization kept growing. That was despite protests and pushback from some members of the community.
At one point, they had a clinic director who would go into schools to talk about sexual health.
“At that time we were kind of on a roll,” Mullen said. “But I can understand now the need for maybe consolidating.”
Today, the center employs three people full time and has one provider that comes down from Anchorage some days.
In addition to reproductive health care, the branch offers gender-affirming medical care, including hormone therapy, and provides HIV testing and education.
The Soldotna location is open until May 31. After that, Rodihan said the Anchorage location will continue to operate under business as usual.
“This is a scary time for reproductive rights,” she said. “But abortion rights are strong in Alaska and we are fully committed to continuing to support Alaska through patient care, education and advocacy campaigns.”
For a full list of services that the center has available at the Anchorage location and those it can do remotely, click here.