Womens’ Care Center gains zoning approval

Update: Since this story was published, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has vetoed the Common Council’s measure approving the rezoning. Read President Fr. John Jenkins’s response here. The original article continues below.

The security personnel at the South Bend Common Council Building must have felt like broken records this past Monday evening. As members of the public passed through metal detectors just before the seven o’clock hearing, they were greeted with warnings of a packed house. “You won’t even be able to go in!” remarked one guard as a crowd headed toward the elevators. No one, however, appeared to be dissuaded, even after the fire department–concerned about fire code violations–showed up to prevent people from entering the meeting space.
For the second time in two weeks, a sea of pink flooded the fourth floor Council room, spilling out into the hallway in anticipation of a vote on rezoning for a new location of the Women’s Care Center. The vote would determine if the group could open a site at 3527 Lincolnway West, next door to a proposed abortion clinic. Two weeks earlier, the council tabled the vote after a nearly three-hour long public forum, in which members of the community, regional doctors, Women’s Care Center representatives and clients, future neighbors, and local government officials voiced their support for the new location of the Women’s Care Center.

The wait was worth it. The South Bend Common Council granted the rezoning request in a five to four vote, following remarks from Jenny Hunsberger, vice president of the Women’s Care Center, and council members. This decision prompted an eruption of cheers from the nearly 200 supporters at the meeting. While the noise was quickly hushed, spirits remained high. The approval signals the commencement of what will be a $500,000 investment into the property and a new location for the Women’s Care Center in a heavily trafficked, highly visible area. After an uphill battle, the Women’s Care Center successfully gained a new home.

The potential for tension between the Women’s Care Center and the prospective abortion clinic seemed of particular concern to the Common Council Members. In the two meetings evaluating the decision, Council members expressed their fears of conflict, as well as of protests on Women’s Care Center property. Jenny Hunsberger, vice president of the Care Center, reiterated on Monday the mission of the center as a non-political, non-activist organization. At the forum two weeks prior, she cited the Women’s Care Center’s peaceful coexistence as neighbors or near neighbors of abortion clinics at 22 of its 29 locations across the United States. The goal of the Women’s Care Center, Hunsberger emphasized, is to ensure that no woman in the South Bend community feels pressured to have an abortion because she does not have the necessary resources. Women’s Care Center even offered to surrender their First Amendment rights, prohibiting any potential protesters on their property. But even that offer may prove unnecessary. Hunsberger cited statistics that protests of abortion clinics actually diminished when Women’s Care Centers opened next door or nearby. Most importantly, argued Hunsberger,  this location would provide a highly visible, easily accessible space to expand their current services on city’s west side.

These services include pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes, prenatal vitamins, medical care referrals, and opportunities to earn diapers, car seats, and cribs. They are all provided free of charge to the many clients of the Women’s Care Center. The extensive impact of the Women’s Care Center is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that two thirds of the babies in South Bend are born to mothers receiving services from the Women’s Care Center. The opening of a new location, therefore, in such an extended space with high visibility, can only serve to further this impact.

Matt Connell, a junior at Notre Dame, attended both Common Council meetings and expressed his support of the decision. “Their work saves lives,” offered Matt, “and it was clear in the massive outpouring of support that their services make a huge difference in so many people’s lives.

Grace Enright is a junior living in Cavanaugh Hall. She has seen every movie you’ve never heard of. To hear her talk about this email her at genright@n.edu.