While planning to set up a booth at the Juneau Community Health Fair at Thunder Mountain High School on March 17, the Alaskans For Life, Inc. group found out their booth was not welcomed at this year’s event.
“We have been involved with the fair for 30 years,” Sidney Heidersdorf, President of Alaskans For Life, Inc., Juneau, said in a phone interview Monday. “It is a very straightforward booth.”
However, complaints lodged with Alaska Health Fair, Inc., an Anchorage-based nonprofit which conducts almost 100 community events yearly, tell a different story.
“We heard there were a couple complaints about people saying they saw ‘butchered babies,’ which is totally untrue,” Heidersdorf said. “People complained it was political.”
Heidersdorf said the booth the group has used for a decade has a sign which reads “Babies need a safe environment from conception to birth.” There are also pictures of babies in the womb and medical, life-sized fetal models. Heidersdorf said the booth is about fetal development and there is no mention of abortion.
On Feb. 22, Heidersdorf said the group received a phone call and an email from Alaska Health Fair Executive Director Andrei Chakine saying the Alaskans for Life booth was denied its invite to the fair for violating “health fair policies.” The policies are outlined in the application form and in the not-permitted section, “abortion” is included.
Heidersdorf said he asked for an explanation and sent a letter with the same question after being denied their booth, but has not received any further response other than the initial response from Chakine.
The Empire reached out to Chakine for comment Monday, but he said he did not want to speak to the press without first consulting legal counsel.
Heidersdorf acknowledges that back in 2008, the Alaskans for Life, Inc., Juneau, group did reference abortion at their booth; they had a sign up that stated, “No drinking, No smoking, No abortion.” But as Heidersdorf explained Monday, after they were asked to remove the reference, they did. The booth has been similar in nature ever since, he said.
The Alaskans for Life website mentions abortion twice under its Health Fair portion: “This is a good opportunity to inform the public on fetal development as well as abortion;” and “It is important to have knowledge of fetal development to realize exactly what abortion entails.”
In preparing for this year’s health fair, Alaskans For Life applied for and received an invite to have a booth at the fair, Heidersdorf said. On Feb. 21, a call from the Alaska Health Fair stated the booth would be fine as long as they did not discuss abortion.
“We don’t discuss abortion,” Heidersdorf said. “If someone asks a question about (abortion), we will answer it.”
But on March 8 and 15, Heidersdorf said Alaskans for Life received two invite confirmation emails about attending the Health Fair. So, on March 17, the group believed they were given the OK and made their way to the fair. However, when trying to set up, they were told the booth was not allowed.
“We showed them the (confirmation) emails,” Heidersdorf said. “We were told they did not mean anything. We offered to show them our display and they said they were just fulfilling their boss’s wishes.”
The group objected to the denial but did not set up a booth.
Heidersdorf believes the concept of a pro-life booth was the cause of the booth being denied this year.
“People may be disturbed before they even see (the booth),” he said. “People know pro-life people are strongly opposed to abortions — and we are — but our booth did not say anything.”
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.