RALEIGH, N.C. — A pregnancy center in North Carolina has filed a federal legal challenge after the Raleigh City Council denied its zoning request, thereby prohibiting the entity from opening adjacent to an abortion facility.
Hand of Hope defines itself as “an outreach ministry of Jesus Christ through its Church” that provides women with free, “accurate and complete information about both prenatal development and abortion.”
According to its complaint filed on Wednesday in court, Hand of Hope learned last year that the property adjacent to Preferred Women’s Health in Raleigh was up for sale. Finding the development to be a unique opportunity to offer pro-life services next to an abortion facility, Hand of Hope purchased the property in December.
“We will be located right beside the abortion clinic, much like McDonald’s is across the street from Burger King,” Executive Director Tonya Baker Nelson said. “It makes good business sense to go exactly where the people are that we’re trying to reach.”
The property had been used as a residence, and the city zoning code only allowed for the land to be used as a church or for religious education, or as a civic club. However, as Hand of Hope learned that the Raleigh City Council intended to change its zoning code for the area, and in light of the religious use already allowed, the organization believed that the city would allow it to conduct its non-for-profit work at the location.
Therefore, Hand of Hope applied to have the property rezoned as mixed office use in April and was approved during a Citizen’s Advisory Council meeting. The following month, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that City Council approve Hand of Hope’s application as it believed the request aligned with Raleigh’s “future land use” map.
But in July, Raleigh City Council members rejected the recommendation and denied the application, prohibiting Hand of Hope from using the property as a pregnancy center.
The organization is now challenging the denial in court, as it asserts that city council “infringed upon its exercise of its constitutionally protected freedoms and religious land use.” It is seeking a declaration that the rejection violates Hand of Hope’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
“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,” Baker Nelson said in a statement. Those who go to Preferred Women’s Health will not be fully informed about their choices.”
“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,” also remarked attorney Noel Sterett of the law firm Mauck and Baker, which is representing the pregnancy center in court.
“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,” he said.