Mayor vetoes rezoning that would allow pro-life center next to proposed abortion clinic

Woman's Care Center, which is an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center, wants to open a new location at this home in the 3500 block of Lincoln Way W. The home is right next to the location for a proposed abortion clinic // South Bend Tribune photo

Mayor Pete Buttigieg has announced his decision to veto a rezoning bill that would allow a pro-life center to move right next to a proposed abortion clinic.

The Common Council approved plans to rezone the area along Lincolnway West between the airport and Bendix Drive so Women's Care Center -- which is an organization against abortion -- could put a location there.

In response, Pro Choice South Bend gathered signatures on a petition asking the mayor to veto that approval.

The mayor says this is about the neighborhood and safety. not the abortion issue. He said changing the zoning rules to allow the pro-life center would creative a divisive atmosphere in that community.

"My responsibility in deciding whether to sign this bill or veto it has to be based on whether it'll be the right answer for the neighborhood," Buttigieg said. "In my view it is the not answer for the neighborhood. I don't think it would be responsible to situate two groups literally right next to each other in a neighborhood that have diametrically opposed views on the most divisive social issue of our time."

Buttigieg outlined his position in a letter to Clerk Kareemah Fowler. Read it here.

The mayor says this was one of the toughest decisions he has had to make, and that he heard from hundreds of people on both sides of the issue.

With the veto, supporters of Pro-Life South Bend say they were shaking in excitement.

"We are incredibly grateful for the mayor for standing with women's reproductive rights," said Jamie Morgan with Pro-Choice South Bend.

Jenny Hunnsberger from Women's Care Center calls this decision a setback.

"We're deeply saddened that care for women and families in South Bend got caught up in politics," she said.

Buttigieg emphasized it was the impact of having both locations in the same neighborhood and what it would mean for the area's safety.

"Having a crisis pregnancy center open up right next door would have invaded that space and made people feel as though they would have harassment stigma and other things that would be very detrimental to patient care and the experience," said Morgan.

The mayor says statistics show cases of violence and harassment triple when pro-life and pro-choice clinics operate next to each other, and that's what caught his attention.

Hunnsberger says that hasn't been the case in the center's 34 years.

"Twenty-two times we have opened near abortion clinics. Always we provide care without judgement and there has never been an instance of violence," she said.

Buttigieg says he has no issue with Women's Care Center expanding.

"I think many in the community would welcome them proceeding to a different location," he said.

"We don't have another plan in place, said Hunnsberger. "We don't have another site picked out. We wanted to be there because that is the place where we can best serve the women and children of South Bend."

Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins issued the following statement Friday night in response to the mayor's decision:

“The Women’s Care Center, on whose board I serve, gives women in crisis the support they need for themselves and their babies before and after birth. It doesn’t engage in political advocacy, but provides compassionate, non-judgmental loving care to women most in need. I am saddened by Mayor Buttigieg’s decision to veto a bill that would have allowed the Women’s Care Center to build a facility near one that seeks to provide abortions. The mayor’s decision excludes an important presence from that neighborhood and thwarts plans that had met the criteria for rezoning and had been approved by the Common Council. Far from enhancing the harmony of the neighborhood, it divides our community and diminishes opportunities for vulnerable women to have a real choice. The mayor is a talented and dedicated public servant with whom I have worked closely to serve our community, but I am deeply disappointed by his decision.”

Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, issued this statement on Saturday morning:

“I am deeply disappointed in yesterday’s decision by Mayor Pete Buttigieg to veto the rezoning request of the Women’s Care Center which was approved by the South Bend Common Council this past Monday.

Women who experience a crisis pregnancy often say that they feel they have no other option than abortion, and the Women’s Care Center exists precisely to offer these vulnerable women a real choice.

What started as a small outreach to women in crisis in downtown South Bend over three decades ago, has grown to become the largest, most successful pregnancy resource center in America, serving 26,000 women annually from 29 centers in 10 states. How unfortunate that the Women’s Care Center has been denied in its own hometown the opportunity to expand their compassionate services to a location where it could best reach the women who could benefit most.

I share the mayor's concern about the neighborhood, but for a different reason: a group from outside our community and state may open that not only discards innocent human life, but purports to give women a choice, when in fact it has vigorously opposed the Women's Care Center that provides loving support for women and the choice to say yes to life."

There's still a possibility the Common Council could vote to override the mayor's veto. That would require a 2/3rd vote. But remember, this passed the council by a narrow 5-to-4 margin.

Watch the mayor's news conference that was held Friday afternoon:

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