Fitness club members criticize tree with Birthright message

Some offended by Christmas display in lobby of Body Boutique

Three Lawrence women have canceled their memberships at a women-only gym after finding a Christmas tree in the lobby adorned with plastic figures meant to represent fetuses.

The women quit Body Boutique, 2330 Yale Road, last week after entering the business and taking notice of the small tree on a table by the entrance, they said.

“This is insidious. This is in my gym,” former member Kelly Jones said.

The fitness center, Jones said, was a place to promote physical and mental health, not to push a polarizing issue, like a woman’s right to choose, onto the gym’s clientele.

Jones said that she contacted Body Boutique co-owner Lorinda Hartzler last week, telling her that she was offended by the tree and asking her to cancel her 90-day contract.

Body Boutique, 2330 Yale Road, has a Christmas tree in the lobby adorned with plastic figures meant to represent fetuses. Three women recently quit the gym because they were offended by the ornaments on the tree.

Hartzler said that Birthright of Lawrence, a local nonprofit corporation that offers pregnancy counseling, contacted the business asking whether it could place a tree in the gym. She said that the company explained that they had no political agenda and that they intended only to assist pregnant women in their decision-making process.

“It’s not like the babies are morbid,” Hartzler said of the tiny figures in the tree. “It’s not graphic at all.”

The tree contained a dozen blue and pink stockings, each stuffed with a plastic figure and attached card that labeled the dolls as being “between 11 and 12 weeks old.”

The tree also held coupons for Birthright videos, pamphlets and children’s clothes. Other coupons included savings on a video titled “After the Choice,” another video showing abortion procedures, a brochure on the morning-after pill and a card that offered quart-size, press-and-seal plastic bags.

Birthright of Lawrence intended that people take a figure home in exchange for a $5 donation.

Hartzler said the tree was in support of women and their children during the holidays, and that it was not intended to upset clients.

“I didn’t want to offend anyone,” Hartzler said.

But Jones and the other women who asked to cancel their membership, who asked not to be named, said that to them the tree sent an anti-abortion message, regardless of what the organization stood for. Jones said that she thought Hartzler was trying to alienate the abortion-rights segment of the gym’s membership.

Another member, Pam MacDonald, planned to cancel her membership, saying that her child has to see the tree every time she enters the gym because the tree is so close to the day care there.

“That’s not an issue that a 4-year-old needs to be exposed to,” MacDonald said.

But other members of the gym voiced support for the decision to put up the plastic-figure adorned tree.

Gym member Kathy Marshall said that she was happy the gym worked with community organizations and took a stand on issues when other businesses did little to support the community.

“I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about,” Marshall said.

Jones said that in conversations with Hartzler, the gym would not refund any money Jones had already paid for her 90-day contract.

Hartzler said that she would need to speak to members one-on-one to decide if she would refund any money.

“I don’t even know if the tree is going to stay there,” Hartzler said. “I will take everyone’s opinion into consideration.”

Carol Rao, a volunteer at Birthright, said that if people were complaining about the tree, she would consider removing it from the gym.

“It makes me sad to think that anything we did offended them,” Rao said. “We’re not here to fight a fight. We’re here to help.”