Ben Johnson

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Mayor, United Church minister: ‘Forces of darkness’ trying to defund Planned Parenthood

Ben Johnson

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN, May 11, 2012, ( – The mayor of Grand Rapids told a Planned Parenthood fundraiser that “the forces of darkness” are behind the drive to cut off taxpayer funding of the nation’s largest abortion provider.

George Heartwell delivered the keynote address at the annual fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan on Thursday.

The news website reports Heartwell, who is a former Planned Parenthood chairman, praised the organization for serving more than 10,000 “vulnerable” women last year.

“What’s not to love about that?” he asked a crowd of several hundred activists and donors.

“Yet every year the forces of darkness seek to deprive women of the health care and reproductive education they get through Planned Parenthood,” he intoned.

In an apparent reference to the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, he said the agency’s clients are often “demonized by legislators and talk show hosts.”

Heartwell, who is a former Planned Parenthood chairman, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, after leaving the Reformed Church in America. He has served as mayor since 2004.

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The city mayor’s office is nonpartisan, but states Heartwell has “supported many Democrats in the past.”

As a first-term city council member in 1991, Heartwell proposed adding “gender orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. It passed in 1994 over the heated objection of the majority of the town’s residents. “Most troubling to me were the clergy who came forward and spoke in opposition,” he told the local LGBTQ history project. “Maybe most disappointing was the opposition of African-American clergy, who then and still today, many, refuse to accept this as the modern civil rights leading edge – that there is a civil rights issue at stake here.”

Before being elected mayor, Heartwell taught community leadership at Aquinas College, “an inclusive educational community rooted in the Catholic Dominican tradition” that “provides a liberal arts education with a global perspective.”

Planned Parenthood’s luncheon comes as the group is preparing for its Stop the War on Women Rally May 24 on Rosa Parks Circle. The event is held in conjunction with the local chapters of the ACLU, the National Organization for Women, and the Progressive Women’s Alliance. 

The press kit for Thursday’s fundraiser included a condom, according to Last year’s fundraiser luncheon earned the group $85,000.


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