Pro-life ministry barred again from N.C. facility
RALEIGH, N.C. (BP) -- A North Carolina pregnancy resource center faced another setback when the Raleigh Board of Adjustment re-classified the organization as a medical facility, overturning the city attorney's designation of the pro-life ministry as a civic group, according to The News & Observer.
Hand of Hope's rezoning application became controversial last summer after a standard City Council meeting on the matter became bogged down in procedural minutiae following opposition from A Preferred Women's Health Center, a clinic specializing in abortion procedures located next to Hand of Hope's Raleigh office.
The abortion clinic and its supporters, fearing so-called patient harassment, obtrusive picketing and "physical violence," voiced opposition to the pregnancy center -- even objecting to the three-minute limit on discussion.
The council tabled the request after discovering a typo in the meeting time indicated on the notice sent to nearby property owners, who were invited to attend the session.
When the issue was reintroduced a week later, the council voted unanimously to deny the rezoning request, citing the city's potential to draw higher tax revenue if the street was collectively rezoned to allow for "larger, more coordinated office development."
In August, Hand of Hope filed a federal lawsuit against the council's decision, claiming a violation of constitutional First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as a breach of federal law protecting religious land use.
The city attorney rendered the rezoning case moot when he decided Hand of Hope should be designated as a civic group, allowing the organization to operate out of the residential office.
The abortion clinic appealed the attorney's designation, prompting the Board of Adjustment to make the city's final decision. According to its website, the Raleigh Board of Adjustment is an eight-member panel that hears appeals, considers exceptions and interprets zoning regulations.
The News & Observer reported the board's decision came as a 3-2 vote.
Tonya Baker Nelson, Hand of Hope's CEO, said she is committed to fighting what she considers to be unfair treatment by the City of Raleigh. "Hand of Hope has made every effort to resolve our rezoning issue through city procedures, and we have given the City of Raleigh every opportunity to do the right thing and allow us to occupy our space next door to the abortion clinic," Nelson said.
"Since they have chosen not to do the right thing, we will seek relief at the federal level through the court system. We look forward to our day in court in the fight for the rights of the preborn."
Nelson said the situation with Raleigh is important because pregnancy resource centers across North Carolina believe a necessary component of their ministry is physical proximity to abortion clinics, places where men and women are making "a pregnancy decision."
"What the City of Raleigh has done to Hand of Hope, other left leaning, politically motivated municipalities are sure to follow," Nelson said.
"What's at stake here are our collective civil and religious liberties. The battle to truly give a voice to the voiceless just got a little bit louder in Raleigh."