South Bend council allows anti-abortion group to open site next to proposed abortion clinic
April 24--SOUTH BEND -- The South Bend Common Council voted Monday night to let an anti-abortion rights group open a new location next to the site of a proposed abortion clinic.
The council voted 5-4 to grant the rezoning sought by Women's Care Center, which plans to open a new location at 3527 Lincoln Way W., next door to where Whole Woman's Health Alliance wants to open a non-surgical abortion clinic.
Voting for the rezoning were council members Dave Varner, R-5th; Jo Broden, D-4th, Oliver Davis, D-6th, Gavin Ferlic, D-at large, and John Voorde, D-at large. Voting against it were Tim Scott, D-1st, Regina Preston-Williams, D-2nd, Sharon McBride, D-3rd, and Karen White, D-at large.
Council members who voted for the rezoning stressed their votes should not be interpreted as signs that they oppose women's right to choose to have an abortion. Rather, they said they voted because it's a "zoning issue."
Specifically, council attorney Bob Palmer reminded them at their prior meeting April 9 that they were legally required to grant the rezoning if the proposed land use would:
* Comply with the city's comprehensive plan;
* Be consistent with "current conditions" and the "character of current structures;"
* Be the most "desirable use;"
* Conserve property values in the area; and
* Be "responsible development and growth."
Council members who approved the request said they did so because of the Women's Care Center's written commitments prohibit protesting from their property.
But Scott said the organization will have no power to stop protesters from exercising their 1st Amendment right to free speech from the right-of-way in front of their property.
Because the public hearing on the matter happened April 9, only council members were allowed to speak at Monday night's meeting, along with Women's Care Center executive director Jenny Hunzberger, who was allowed to talk only about the written commitments.
After the meeting, Jesse Torrey, managing director of Austin, Texas-based Whole Woman's Health Alliance, said she was worried about the future. In other cities across the nation, including Peoria, Ill., Women's Care Center and crisis pregnancy centers like it locate next to abortion clinics so that they can deceive women who accidentally mistake them for abortion providers, Torrey said.
Torrey said this is the first time she's ever seen a crisis pregnancy center that locates next to an abortion clinic win zoning approval with such written commitments.
"It's highly concerning," Torrey said.
But Hunzberger said her organization doesn't engage in deception, and pregnant women should see the "pro-life" mission in the Women's Care Center logo, which shows a woman holding a baby.
"The choice that a woman makes is her own. Our work is not persuasion, our work is not coercion," Hunzberger said. "We offer women an opportunity to choose life. We don't intend or purport to do anything else."
Whole Woman's Health Alliance is still appealing the Indiana State Department of Health's denial of its abortion license. Hunzberger said Women's Care Center will soon begin renovating the Linconlway site and will move in regardless of whether the state ultimately grants the abortion license.