Playing Politics with Pregnancy in South Bend

Pete Buttigieg speaks during a town hall meeting in Fort Dodge, Iowa, April 16, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

The Women’s Care Center receives an award from Notre Dame, one year after Mayor Pete Buttigieg vetoed its new location.

South Bend, Ind. — In 1984, a student approached her professor at the University of Notre Dame and confided in her about an unplanned pregnancy. She didn’t want to get an abortion, but she didn’t know what else she could do.

That professor, Janet Smith, decided to take action, gathering the resources to buy a small blue house just south of the Notre Dame campus and right next to an abortion clinic in the city, creating a place where young women facing unplanned pregnancies could receive the resources to choose life instead of abortion.

What started out as one small conversation — and one small choice — today has grown into the Women’s Care Center (WCC), the nation’s largest network of pregnancy-resource facilities, with 23 locations in eleven states, serving more than 25,000 women each year. Each of the WCC’s locations offers free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, confidential counseling, referrals for prenatal care, on-site parenting classes, and resources such as children’s clothing, diapers, and toys.

Just this past weekend at Notre Dame, the group was presented with the Evangelium Vitae medal, an award granted each year by the university’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture to honor “individuals whose outstanding efforts have served to proclaim the Gospel of Life by steadfastly affirming and defending the sanctity of human life from its earliest stages.”

Accepting the award on behalf of the WCC on Saturday evening, foundation director Bobby Williams noted that every other baby born in the South Bend region is born to a woman who has visited the Women’s Care Center. “And my favorite statistic,” Williams added, “is the fact — the wonderful, blessed fact — that in the last twelve months, over 16,000 babies were saved from abortion at the Women’s Care Center.”

The WCC’s volunteer president, Ann Manion, said in her remarks, meanwhile, that 92 percent of pregnant women who visit a WCC location end up deciding to choose life for their unborn child.

Exactly one year ago, the WCC was thrust into the political spotlight in South Bend after abortion-rights activists lobbied to block the group from opening a new location on the west side of the city, next door to a planned abortion clinic, Whole Women’s Health. (The abortion clinic has yet to open, owing to pending safety charges against hazardous WWH clinics in other states.)

That’s the business model of the WCC. From its very first days, the group has always opened locations right next door to abortion clinics, in the hope that pregnant women will stop inside and realize there are other options besides ending the life of their child. And that model has proven immensely successful.

In South Bend, the abortion rate has plummeted by more than 70 percent since Smith started the first center several decades ago, and the only abortion clinic in the city was shuttered in 2016. In nearby Fort Wayne, where the WCC opened a facility in 2004, the city’s abortion rate has gone down 54 percent, and two local abortion clinics have closed. Similar patterns are evident in every city where the WCC has established a location.

It’s easy to see, then, why supporters of abortion — and especially those who profit when women choose abortion — oppose the WCC, and pregnancy-resource centers like it. When the South Bend common council approved a rezoning plan to allow the WCC to open at its chosen location next to the proposed Whole Women’s Health center, over the objections of abortion-rights activists in the city, those activists turned to South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg. He delivered.

Buttigieg, a Democrat currently running for the 2020 presidential nomination, vetoed the rezoning plan, forcing the WCC to relocate away from its chosen lot. “In my judgment, the neighborhood would not benefit from having the zoning law changed in order to place next door to each other two organizations with deep and opposite commitments on the most divisive social issue of our time,” he wrote in a statement in late April 2018.

The mayor added that Whole Women’s Health wrote to him “to express the view that they would be harmed by such a re-zoning,” citing research provided to him by the abortion clinic to claim that there would be a higher risk of violence if the WCC were located next door.

Last spring, a spokeswoman for the WCC, Jenny Hunsberger, told National Review that there has never been an instance of violence or confrontation at any of the clinics near their locations. “I would encourage anyone who’s interested to check police reports, because those will show that there has never been an instance of violence at a Women’s Care Center,” she said at the time.

Though the WCC has begun construction on a new location near the spot Buttigieg vetoed — and Hunsberger subsequently told Vox the group was satisfied with the resolution to the conflict — there’s no doubt the mayor gave the abortion clinic preferential treatment. Reached for comment this week, Buttigieg’s presidential campaign directed National Review to the mayor’s statement from last April and noted that he is “100 percent pro-choice.”

The controversy last spring was a flashpoint in a larger war over crisis-pregnancy centers, which reached a head in the Supreme Court case NIFLA v. Becerra, when the Court ruled against a California law that forced pro-life resource centers to advertise for the state’s free or low-cost abortions.

Opposition to pregnancy-resource centers such as the WCC is a helpful indication that far too many activists and politicians on the left aren’t in fact “pro-choice.” If they were, they’d be only too happy to support the work of groups that help women choose to keep their unborn children.

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