The city’s Board of Adjustment has overturned a city staff decision to allow an anti-abortion group to operate next to an abortion clinic in West Raleigh.
Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center, a nonprofit that encourages alternatives to abortion, has been trying since April to open an office next to A Preferred Women’s Health Center of Raleigh, which offers abortion services at a clinic on Jones Franklin Road.
Hand of Hope’s request drew an array of reactions not only from residents but from the city government, which flip-flopped on whether the organization could open an office on residential property at 1522 Jones Franklin.
Raleigh’s Board of Adjustment, a quasi-judicial panel of local residents that interprets zoning regulations, appeared to issue the city’s final ruling Monday afternoon when it voted 3-2 to deny Hand of Hope to move into the space.
Calla Hales, a spokeswoman for the clinic, said she was surprised and relieved by the board’s decision. Hales had worried that Hand of Hope’s move would make it easier for anti-abortion activists to obstruct prospective patients from receiving treatment at the clinic.
Tonya Baker Nelson, Hand of Hope executive director, said she was disappointed by the decision and hopes the courts render a different result. The adjustment board’s decision can be appealed to Wake County Superior Court. Hand of Hope has also filed a federal lawsuit against the City Council for a previous ruling.
Hand of Hope already operates in a house it leases less than half mile down Jones Franklin Road. Hand of Hope owns the house next to the clinic, and Nelson has said that the move would help Hand of Hope save money while also putting its staff closer to potential clients.
At question on Monday was whether Hand of Hope operates more as a medical facility or as a civic organization. Medical facilities, unlike civic groups, are barred under city rules from operating offices on residential property.
The City Council in July denied Hand of Hope’s request saying a small medical office doesn’t match Raleigh’s long-term planning documents, which call for a larger commercial project on that part of Jones Franklin.
City staff effectively overturned the council’s decision in November after re-evaluating how Hand of Hope is classified in city codes. Hand of Hope is more of a civic group, city staff said, because it is religiously affiliated and most of its staff lacks medical training.
The Women’s Health Center appealed city staff’s decision to the adjustment board, saying Hand of Hope is a medical facility because it uses an ultrasound machine.
Travis Crane, an assistant planning director, said city staff didn’t consider the use of the ultrasound machine to be a medical procedure because Hand of Hope wrote in city documents that the procedures are “non-diagnostic.” Hand of Hope doesn’t identify the gender of the baby or any physical abnormalities, Nelson said.
Hales argued that ultrasound screenings are diagnostic by nature if they reveal a baby or fetus at all, adding, “Ultrasonography involves a license and-or certification. Therefore it’s a medical procedure.”
Hand of Hope attorney Noel Sterett argued that an ultrasound machine is a “communication tool,” and that the nonprofit can’t perform its mission as a civic organization of serving expectant mothers without the machine.
“If a church gives out food, that doesn’t make them a restaurant,” Sterett said.
The board noted that Hand of Hope, which also operates as “Your Choice Pregnancy Center,” has a medical director and uses volunteer nurses to interpret ultrasounds.
“It’s pretty clear to me that this center, they have a medical director,” said Carr McLamb Jr., the board chairman. “I don’t know how to get around that as a medical use.”