A North Carolina pregnancy center filed a lawsuit this week against the City of Raleigh after it prohibited the pro-life center from moving in near a local abortion clinic.
Last year, A Hand of Hope pregnancy center bought land next to A Preferred Women’s Health Center, an abortion clinic in Raleigh, and hoped to move in there to better serve pregnant and parenting moms and their families. However, the abortion clinic has been fighting against the pro-life pregnancy center’s plans.
In July, the City Council of Raleigh rejected A Hand of Hope’s request to have the land rezoned from residential to commercial so that it could move next to the abortion facility, The News Observer reported.
This week, the pregnancy center announced that it filed a federal lawsuit challenging the city council’s decision.
“The City Council is not above the law and tried to hide their political power play. Thankfully, the federal law was put in place to prevent politicians from masking their political preferences behind broad discretionary regulations,” said attorney Noel Sterett of Mauck & Baker in Chicago, which is representing Hand of Hope. “I hope we can all agree that our freedoms, property rights, and a woman’s right to be fully informed should not be subject to the political whims and discretion of a few city council members.”
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The City Council rejected the pregnancy center’s zoning request on July 5, arguing that the property is for residential use only and citing city codes. The decision came as a surprise after the local Planning Commission and City Zoning Staff unanimously recommended the pregnancy center’s request, concluding that its use of the land was consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and compatible with the surrounding area.
According to the pregnancy center, the city’s official plan was to rezone the property that would have allowed for its needs. Nevertheless, the City Council ignored its own staff and the planning commission and voted to deny Hand of Hope’s zoning request on July 5, the pro-life organization said. Though the City’s plan is to eventually rezone the property, the City Council indicated that it would be “premature” to rezone it now.
Hand of Hope’s Executive Director Tonya Baker Nelson previously said she was shocked by the city’s decision.
“From all our research, it looked like our request fit right into the UDO (Raleigh’s development guidelines) and we were following all the rules laid out for us, step-by-step,” Nelson said.
Employees of the Raleigh abortion clinic have been fighting the pregnancy center’s rezoning request from the start. They claim that the pro-life pregnancy center and its supporters will harass women seeking abortions.
Nelson refuted the claims, saying her organization does not harass women or encourage or allow protesters on its property.
“We don’t need to protest to attract ourselves to the community,” Nelson told the council previously.
“We will be located right beside the abortion clinic, much like McDonald’s is across the street from Burger King,” she added. “It makes good business sense to go exactly where the people are that we’re trying to reach.”
Commenting on the lawsuit, Nelson added: “Pregnant women in Raleigh should be allowed to choose Hand of Hopes’ free help and support and should not be limited to an abortion clinic. Those who go to Preferred Women’s Health will not be fully informed about their choices.”
Hands of Hope operates two pregnancy centers in North Carolina, which offer free and confidential pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, STD testing, options counseling and more. The pro-life center says it “exists solely to truly offer women and men who are experiencing an unexpected pregnancy a real choice in their decision making process.”