An abortion clinic and an anti-abortion group will soon be next-door neighbors, a move the clinic believes could lead to heightened tensions.
Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center, which tries to persuade women not to have abortions, recently announced plans to move into a house it owns on Jones Franklin Road in Raleigh next to A Preferred Women’s Health Center, which offers abortion services.
Hand of Hope has operated on the same street as the health center for years. But the group bought a lot and house next to the health center in 2015, and last year asked the city to tweak its codes to allow for it to move operations there.
After the Raleigh City Council and city staff offered different rulings on Hand of Hope’s request, a quasi-judicial panel of local residents ruled that the group can’t operate its ultrasound machine in the house. Doing so would put Hand of Hope in the “medical facility” category of city codes, the panel said, and medical facilities aren’t allowed on the property next to the health center.
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Hand of Hope offers ultrasounds as well as pregnancy tests and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
The City Council could reclassify, or rezone, the property. But it denied Hand of Hope’s request last summer.
Hand of Hope’s solution: move materials and some staff to the house next to the health center, but leave the ultrasound machine and STD testing materials at its current facility. The grand opening is Sept. 11.
“We are moving forward. Raleigh says we can have our not-for-profit ministry there but can’t show the women their babies with the ultrasound machines,” said Tonya Baker Nelson, the group’s executive director.
The grand opening is doubling as a fundraiser. The group is suing the city to operate its ultrasound machine on the property and asking for financial help.
“#StandForHope with us and let the City of Raleigh know that women should be allowed to see their babies and are entitled to all of the free help and information we provide!” Hand of Hope posted online.
Hand of Hope’s plans to move next to the abortion clinic were immediately controversial. West Raleigh residents argued at meetings over whether the move would cause more conflict between clinic workers and anti-abortion activists who often protest the clinic from the street.
In 2015, 26 groups acquired protest permits for that part of Jones Franklin Road.
Nelson has repeatedly said the protesters aren’t affiliated with Hand of Hope. Her group, she said, merely wants to get closer to women who are facing tough, important decisions about their pregnancy.
Calla Hales, director of A Preferred Women’s Health Center, said she respects Hand of Hope’s plan to open as a religious center but is still apprehensive.
“I won’t have an issue with it as long as they are not interfering with patients seeking care at our clinic, misleading individuals by equating faith with medicine or scientific fact, or by utilizing medical testing to push harmful misinformation about reproductive care – including abortion,” Hales said.