Grand Rapids may be known as the epicenter of the religious right — and it is — but the current mayor certainly doesn’t fit that description. Mayor George Heartwell spoke at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser recently and said some things that sparked major controversy in the largely conservative area:
Speaking at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park to a crowd of about 470 people – 85 to 90 percent of whom were female – Heartwell credited Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan with giving more than 6,000 Grand Rapids women access to health care and 8,300 coming-of-age teenagers information and tools to prevent pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases last year.
“What’s not to love about that?” said Heartwell, a former Planned Parenthood board chairman. “Yet every year the forces of darkness seek to deprive women” of the health care and reproductive education they get through Planned Parenthood.
“Ultraconservative political forces in league with ultraconservative religious forces have mounted a frontal assault against Planned Parenthood. This is a time like no other to rally behind Planned Parenthood. It’s time for us to fill their treasury.”
Heartwell said the “vulnerable” women and youth served by Planned Parenthood are “demonized by legislators and talk show hosts,” yet “they are our sisters and daughters and mothers and they deserve our best.”
Rick Tormala, a former Grand Rapids city commissioner who unsuccessfully challenged Heartwell in a 2007 mayoral campaign, has sent the city clerk a letter that chides Heartwell as “Grand Pooh-Bah of Planned Parenthood” and mayor of “the Municipality of Moral Relativism.” At a Planned Parenthood fundraiser last week, remarks by Heartwell, an ordained minister, communicate that “virtue is a joke and vice is cool,” Tormala wrote.
“Patch potholes instead of crying about the need for condoms,” he wrote. “What kind of minister refers to people and religious institutions with legitimate concerns about contraception and abortion as ‘the forces of darkness?’
“Demonizing people who disagree with you is the kind of divisive and poisonous rhetoric that divides and polarizes a community. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
No Rick, you should. Heartwell is right. The attacks on Planned Parenthood are appalling and dishonest and the mayor is absolutely right to stand up for the organization and for womens’ rights.