Decatur Mayor criticized for ribbon cutting photo taken at women’s clinic with religious ties
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This story has been updated.
Ribbon cutting photos are a regular staple of the “Decatur Focus,” a monthly magazine produced by the city of Decatur.
Mayor Patti Garrett appeared in one such photo in the June 2019 issue. She was seen cutting the ribbon at the Women’s Clinic of Atlanta, which recently opened a new location at 125 Clairemont Avenue. According to the Focus, the Women’s Clinic of Atlanta first opened in Decatur in 2006 “and has grown its services and increased the number of patients receiving care in the last 13 years.”
But the clinic is actually operated by A Beacon of Hope Women’s Center, religious nonprofit in Johns Creek. That affiliation generated criticism from some residents in Decatur who said the city should not appear to endorse the organization’s views. Mayor Garrett said appearing in the ribbon cutting photos is not an endorsement of the business she is cutting the ribbon for.
“Several residents have contacted me and expressed concern about a recent article that appeared in the Focus that included a photo of me at a ribbon cutting,” Garrett said. “‘The Decatur Focus’ is a newsletter intended to provide announcements and information related to events, activities and businesses in the city of Decatur that are submitted for publication when space permits. I had no knowledge of the clinic and its mission; however, in my role as Mayor, I try to respond to all requests to participate in ribbon cuttings for businesses located in commercial districts within the city of Decatur regardless of my personal opinion. I did not know about [the organization] before the ribbon cutting; like most ribbon cutting requests, the organization reached out to the city and requested the ribbon cutting.”
According to A Beacon of Hope’s vision statement, the nonprofit strives, “To be the first resource chosen for unplanned pregnancy and sexual health decisions; saving the lives of the unborn and leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The nonprofit reports hundreds of “lives saved from abortion.”
Beacon of Hope and Women’s Clinic Executive Director Talli Moellering obtained her certification as a Crisis Pregnancy Coach through the American Association of Christian Counselors. According to the American Association of Christian Counselors website, the organization’s Code of Ethics encourages gay, lesbian and transgender people to be celibate while they “work through issues” related to their sexuality.
According to the Women’s Clinic of Atlanta website, the services offered at the clinic include “abortion screening,” “advanced abortion screening,” “early detection pregnancy testing,” screening for sexually transmitted diseases, adoption referrals, and “after abortion support.”
A Beacon of Hope’s description on GuideStar, a website that tracks nonprofits, provided some additional information about how the organization advertises its services.
“Firstly, we rely on prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit to lead our ministry,” the GuideStar description says. “Second, strategic marketing to attract the patients who are most likely to choose abortion. Third, additional patient care space so we can schedule appointments in the four-day window before a woman typically makes her choice. Fourth, additional manpower including both medical personnel and volunteers. Finally, our mission cannot be accomplished apart from a community of partners who commit to making long-term investments in our work.”
Moellering declined to comment when contacted by Decaturish.
Decaturish asked Mayor Garrett if she would still have attended the ribbon cutting if she had known about the organization’s religious ties.
“The city would have accommodated the request for a ribbon cutting for a local business in Decatur; beyond that, I am not going to respond to hypotheticals,” Garrett said.
Andrea Swartzendruber, a Decatur resident and public health researcher, did not approve of the mayor’s participation in the ribbon cutting for the Women’s Clinic.
“I am disappointed that the city appears to be supporting the Atlanta Women’s Clinic,” Swartzendruber said. “Not only through the ribbon cutting ceremony but also promotion of the center and its services in the Focus with city funds — without noting the limitations of the center, its mission, or its religious affiliations. I assume that the city, like much of the public, was not fully informed.”
Anna Summerlin agreed.
“My take is that their clinic practices are not forthcoming in the way their website presents themselves and the owners are presenting themselves, including to the city,” she said. “I don’t think the city was aware of what they were doing. Do I think the city did 100 percent of the due diligence they should have? I don’t, but now that everyone is aware of who the directors of this franchise are, I think more scrutiny needs to be done.”
Sarah Collier noticed the photo in the Focus and did a little more digging. What she learned concerned her.
“It’s a clinic with an agenda,” Collier said. “I wasn’t sure if Mayor Garrett had been deceived, or if she supports their agenda. But either way, I felt pretty disappointed.”
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