Abortion-rights group denied festival booth

EDMONDS – Planned Parenthood officials say they were denied a place at this month’s Taste of Edmonds festival for political reasons.

An official with the Greater Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, which runs the Aug. 13-15 event, says the Taste is an entertainment event.

“We do not take any political organizations at the Taste,” chamber director Chris Guitton said. “We never have and never will.”

Brian Cutler, a spokesman for Seattle-based Planned Parenthood of Western Washington, contends that other groups at the Taste have a political bent. Planned Parenthood applied in early July – after the deadline, Cutler admitted – for a table to register voters and provide information.

Guitton said the chamber offered to let Planned Parenthood use the chamber booth to register voters, but Cutler said the organization was told it could only place brochures there.

“That was my understanding,” Cutler said. “Maybe that was a misunderstanding.”

Chamber officials also told Planned Parenthood it could use a “free speech” area outside the event that groups use to dispense information and voice opinions.

Guitton said Planned Parenthood isn’t being picked on. The chamber also denied a booth to King County’s Brightwater sewage treatment plant last year, and to the Edmonds anti-Brightwater group as well.

Groups allowed this year include the Alliance for Christian Schools, St. George Coptic Church and Sound Transit.

Those groups will be trying to further their causes, Cutler said. “That in and of itself is certainly not entertainment.”

Planned Parenthood has never been at the Taste of Edmonds before, but Cutler said in an election year, “we wanted to expand in getting our word out to the public.”

That word, he said, is their abortion-rights stance. “When it comes to voting, we are a one-issue organization, and that is choice.”

Planned Parenthood operates 23 health clinics in Western Washington and provides sex education programs and counseling. It receives funding from contributions and grants from organizations, Cutler said.

Planned Parenthood has had a clinic in Lynnwood since 1978. “We’re a vital part of that community,” he said. “We’re about information and access. We’re a health provider.”

Planned Parenthood’s abortion-rights stance is controversial, Cutler acknowledged. Still, “if it’s a stretch that these other groups are political, it’s also a stretch that we are political,” he said.

Guitton said the Alliance for Christian Schools is doing fund-raising. He said the Coptic church sells arts, crafts and food. And Sound Transit “is a transportation agency.”

“We’re always willing to bend the rules a little bit, like we were for Planned Parenthood,” Guitton said.

Planned Parenthood sent e-mails to supporters and the media Tuesday to protest the chamber’s action.

Teresa Takahashi of Lynnwood received one of the e-mails. She first called the chamber to complain, she said, but came away thinking Planned Parenthood had blown the situation out of proportion.

“In this political climate, there’s so much misinformation put out there,” Takahashi said. “I think if (Cutler) and Mr. Guitton sat down and talked about it, they could work it out.”

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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