August 22, 2016 — An antiabortion-rights group on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against Raleigh, North Carolina, over the City Council's decision to block the group from operating out of a building next door to an abortion clinic, the AP/Daily Progress reports (AP/Daily Progress, 8/18).
Your Choice Pregnancy Clinic, a CPC operated by Hand of Hope Pregnancy Centers, purchased a house next door to the abortion clinic, A Preferred Women's Health Center, and sought to have the residential location rezoned for commercial purposes. Hand of Hope already has a location less than one mile from the clinic.
In late April, the West Raleigh Citizens Advisory Council voted in support of the rezoning effort. Later, the Raleigh Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning request.
Lois Turner, owner of A Preferred Women's Health Center, called the rezoning request an "intimidation tactic." According to Turner, if the rezoning request were granted, the CPC would have "cause[d] disruption and difficulties for not only our business, but for our neighbors as well." Clinic staff said allowing the CPC to move next door could lead to more antiabortion-rights harassment outside the facility.
In July, the Raleigh City Council unanimously rejected the rezoning request. Council member Kay Crowder, who represents the Raleigh area, said rezoning the lot does not align with the city's land use plan for that region. The council did not address concerns about protests at A Preferred Women's Health Center and instead made its decision in context of the city plan (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/6).
Hand of Hope filed the legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
In the lawsuit, Hand of Hope alleged that the city council's decision violated the organization's constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of religion and equal protection (Nagem, Raleigh News & Observer, 8/18). The organization also claimed that the city violated the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Specifically, the group said the council's "content-based" decision was made at least in part because Hand of Hope opposes abortion rights.
Hand of Hope said because of the council's decision, the group will not be able to use the land as intended and will face difficulties selling the property. The organization asked the court to overturn the city council's decision (WRAL, 8/18).