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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke January 31, 2010

The GOP says Bill White allowed a "gigantic abortion mill" to be built

Jan. 22 marked the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which protects a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy.

In honor of the occasion, the Republican Party of Texas linked Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Bill White to what it called a "gigantic abortion mill" in Houston.

We saw the claim in an e-mail the party distributed last week: "In Houston, former mayor and now Democratic contender for governor Bill White has presided over the construction of what may be the world's largest abortion clinic. White bills himself as a moderate Democrat, but his administration allowed this 6-floor, 78,000 square foot facility to be built."

In its e-mail, the GOP added a dramatic kicker: "And there's more to this awful story: White's director of Health Policy was one Elena Marks. Ms. Marks is (or was) also the Texas head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Bill White's connection to this gigantic abortion mill is undeniable; he holds no claim to being a moderate Democrat."

That's quite an indictment. Is it true?

Katy Bacon, White's campaign spokeswoman, said: "Bill White had nothing to do with a Planned Parenthood facility."

Bryan Preston, communications director for the state party, said: "It happened under his watch, and he had someone working with him in his administration that he appointed that is closely connected to Planned Parenthood."

What we found: This March, Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, which opened more than 75 years ago, plans to move from its current location to a building it began refurbishing in 2008 with $17 million in private donations. The seven-story, 78,000-square-foot former Sterling Bank building on Houston's Gulf Freeway will be the biggest Planned Parenthood facility in the United States, according to Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla.

The new facility includes a surgical suite that will provide the same services that the current location has offered since 1973. Currently, the clinic performs about 20 abortions per day. Tafolla said more than 90 percent of the clinic's services relate to preventative care, such as breast exams and cervical cancer screening.

The city issued Planned Parenthood a demolition permit to begin the project in 2008, and several building permits since for various aspects of the construction, Tafolla said.

However, the mayor has no role in approving such permits, said Janice Evans, director of communications for Houston Mayor Annise Parker, White's successor.

Evans said: "We have thousands of building permits, they do not come to (the) city council."

Andy Icken, Houston's deputy director of public works, said his department reviewed Planned Parenthood's application for building permits to make sure they complied with the city's building code. Icken also said that nobody from the mayor's office interfered with the application process.

According to the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, facilities seeking to perform abortions apply to the state Department of State Health Services to be licensed in Texas. City officials do not sign off on whether facilities can perform abortions.

What about Elena Marks, White's then-director of health and environmental policy? Did she play a role in getting city approval for the facility?

Marks didn't return our phone calls, though we confirmed separately that Marks served on the board of directors for Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas from 1993-2004.

In 2007, Marks joined the national board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which doesn't supervise local affiliates but sets general policy for the entire organization, according to Tait Sye, a federation spokesman. Marks previously was the board chair of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the PAC for the national organization.

Contrary to the GOP's claim, Marks was never the Texas head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; the position doesn't exist.

Since 2001, Marks has personally donated about $3,500 to Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas. Her latest donation was in March 2007, according to a search of campaign finance records kept by the Texas Ethics Commission.

We found no evidence that Marks used her official position to ensure approval of the building permits.

This much is true: White was mayor when Planned Parenthood started renovating a building to become its new facility.

Using the GOP's logic, White also "presided" over Hurricane Katrina and the Houston Astros going to the World Series and countless other coincidental events. But as far as we could tell, White was no more responsible for the Planned Parenthood construction than he controlled the weather, baseball playoffs or other non-mayoral events.

We rate the Texas GOP's claim ridiculously Pants on Fire.

Featured Fact-check

This story was updated to correct the number of abortions Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas performs each week to 20 per day.

Our Sources

Republican Party of Texas, Headlines, Jan. 22

Interview with Andy Icken, deputy director of Public Works for the city of Houston, Jan. 26

Interview with Bryan Preston, communications director for the Republican Party of Texas, Jan. 25

Interview with Katy Bacon, spokeswoman for the Bill White campaign, Jan. 22

Interview with Rochelle Tafolla, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, Jan. 22

Interview with Janice Evans, spokeswoman for the Office of the Mayor, Jan. 26

Interview with Tait Sye, spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Jan. 26

Texas Department of State Health Services, Abortion Facilities, accessed Jan. 25

NPR, Profile: Planned Parenthood, by Will Evans, Aug. 4, 2008

Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, Facts about Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas and our new headquarters, accessed Jan. 25

Texas Ethics Commission, Campaign contributors, accessed Jan. 25

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The GOP says Bill White allowed a "gigantic abortion mill" to be built

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