(Katie J. Read, Liberty Headlines) An invisible line separates two neighboring pregnancy clinics in Raleigh, North Carolina. One would provide pregnancy tests, counseling, and ultrasounds. The other provides pregnancy tests, counseling, and abortions. Because pro-life Hand of Hope Pregnancy Center falls on the wrong side of an ideological line drawn by government regulators, it hasn’t been able to operate since the organization bought its building next door to an abortion clinic in 2015.
The Hand of Hope Pregnancy Center has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Raleigh after the city’s Board of Adjustment passed a 3-2 vote on Feb. 13 that prohibits the center from working at its new location. The Center does utilize a location half a mile away, but wants to open closer to the abortion clinic, A Preferred Women’s Health Center, to save money and reach more patients.
“The City Council is not above the law and tried to hide their political power play,” said Noel Sterett, the attorney representing Hand of Hope, in a press release. “Thankfully, the federal law was put in place to prevent politicians from masking their political preferences behind broad discretionary regulations.”
After last Monday’s decision, Hand of Hope Founder Tonya Baker Nelson said her organization will not appeal the ruling in Wake County Superior Court, but rather will pursue the federal lawsuit Hand of Hope filed against the city in August 2016 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Hand of Hope is a Christian, pro-life not-for-profit that counsels pregnant women and offers free pregnancy tests and baby supplies. In December 2015 the organization bought a house at 1522 Jones Franklin St. to open a new branch. More than two years later, the new location in Raleigh is still not up and running due to a series of setbacks with zoning laws.
According to The News & Observer of Raleigh, Hand of Hope faced its first complication in February of 2016, when it appealed to the City Council, asking it to adjust the organization’s zoning code. Because the non-profit’s request was filed as a “medical facility,” it could not function in the house, which fell in a residential area. Five months later, the council voted against Hand of Hope’s appeal.
In the time between July 2016 and last Monday’s decision, members of the organization found a loophole that could have allowed them to work at the Raleigh building. While their residential building could not house a “medical facility,” it could accommodate a civic group.
Although Hand of Hope shows religious affiliation, the City Council still voted the organization should be classified as a medical facility rather than a civic group. Because the organization employs trained medical staff and uses ultrasound machines in its office, its status as a medical facility cannot be denied.
Baker Nelson said the Council’s decision surprised and disappointed her, but she said the organization’s lawyers are ready to fight for the Center’s success with the federal lawsuit.
“Pregnant women in Raleigh should be allowed to choose Hand of Hope’s free help and support, and should not be limited to an abortion clinic,” Baker Nelson said in a press release. “Those who go to Preferred Women’s Health will not be fully informed about their choices.