Politics & Policy

South Bend’s Mayor Blocks a Non-Profit Center for Pregnant Women

South Bend., Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a DNC forum in Baltimore, Md., February 11, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Does the debate over abortion rights really hinge on the right to choose, as ‘pro-choice’ advocates insist?

Increasingly, choice as such no longer seems to be the true aim of the abortion-rights movement. Nowhere is this more evident than in the brewing fight over pregnancy-resource centers (PRCs), where women with unexpected pregnancies receive support that helps them choose life — and the abortion industry and its allies don’t appear to like that at all.

A recent controversy unfolding in South Bend, Ind., has been telling. Earlier this week, the city’s Common Council failed to override Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s veto of a measure that would have allowed the Women’s Care Center (WCC) to open a new location on the city’s west side.

The WCC, founded in South Bend in 1984, offers free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, confidential counseling, referrals for prenatal care, on-site parenting classes, and additional resources such as children’s clothing, diapers, and toys. In short, its centers — 29 across ten states, so far — make it easier for women and couples to keep their pregnancies, and to do so with peace of mind.

Mayor Buttigieg, however, is a young star ascending on the Democratic-party horizon, and as all young Democratic stars are quick to discover, making a swift ascent on the left requires embracing pro-choice dogma — even when that includes opposing alternatives to abortion. To Buttigieg, evidently, vetoing this bill made political sense.

But anyone familiar with the abortion debate, and with the situation in South Bend in particular, would know that this veto was not in line with the views of many of his constituents or of moderate voters across the country.

According to recent Marist polling, only one-fifth of Democrats believe that abortion should be available to women at any point during pregnancy. A majority of Democrats and a majority of pro-choice Americans support placing restrictions on late-term abortion. How many more Democrats — especially working-class ones such as those in South Bend — must support helping women access the resources they need to keep their pregnancies?

And if the “pro-choice” epithet is deserved, surely pro-choice Americans must believe that a woman’s right to choose life deserves protection, too.

Surely because of his national aspirations, though, Buttigieg exercised his veto power to deny low-income women on South Bend’s west side access to pregnancy care and parenting resources. Even more concerning, his reasons for the veto were grounded in the baseless accusations of abortion-rights activists, who demanded that he block the WCC because it had chosen a lot next to where Whole Women’s Health wishes to open an abortion clinic. (That request has not yet been approved owing to outstanding charges against hazardous Whole Women’s Health clinics in other states.)

The only concrete rationale Buttigieg offered for his veto was a statistic, provided to him by Whole Women’s Health, purporting to show that abortion clinics “in close proximity” to PRCs are at a higher risk for violence. The finding is worth very little, however, as it comes from a study that was not statistically rigorous. For example, the study fails to define its measurement of what constitutes “close proximity” to a PRC, and, crucially, it neglects to indicate how many of the 319 abortion clinics surveyed actually reported being near a PRC. The study claims that 21 percent of clinics near a PRC were subject to violence, but as far as any reader can tell, that could represent a very small number of clinics, depending on the sample size.

Moreover, Buttigieg ignores that the study was conducted by an explicitly pro-abortion group, whose website includes this statement: “Abortion is a necessity for millions of women worldwide, for their health, for their well being, for their dreams of a better tomorrow.” This is hardly the kind of unbiased source a politician should consult when making such a controversial and significant decision.

What’s more, the charge of violence betrays a lack of familiarity with the WCC’s history and mission. “In 34 years, the entire history of our organization, there has never been a single instance of violence or confrontation,” Jenny Hunsberger, a WCC spokesperson, tells National Review.

Since the Women’s Care Center opened in South Bend 34 years ago, the city’s abortion rate has dropped by 75 percent.

Hunsberger points out, too, that while the WCC has 29 centers, most of which are next to abortion clinics, there has never been an instance of violence at any of those clinics. “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 says.

The WCC’s choice to open next to abortion clinics has always been motivated by a desire to be available to as many pregnant women as possible, not to instigate threats against them. “We open centers that are highly visible and easily accessible for the women in our community who need us the most,” Hunsberger adds. “Our center provides a real choice for women who feel like they may have no options. That’s why we want to open next door to the proposed abortion clinic.”

The model clearly works: Since the WCC opened in South Bend 34 years ago, the city’s abortion rate has dropped by 75 percent, according to data provided by the WCC. There are many reasons for declining abortion rates, of course, but one important factor is surely that thousands of women and families have received alternative care and support at WCC locations in the city.

Opponents of the WCC insist that PRCs give women fraudulent health-care information, but they have yet to uncover any evidence that any of the group’s centers have ever done so. “The medical information that we provide to women is factual and accurate,” Hunsberger says. “Our model of care is based on creating relationships with women that will last for five or more years. That relationship is built on trust, and trust isn’t built on lies.”

In a few weeks, the WCC’s board will meet to discuss its plan for the future in South Bend. Seeking legal remedy is one possibility, as some have suggested that the group might have grounds to allege viewpoint discrimination or a violation of its free expression. In the meantime, WCC employees in South Bend will continue working to bring care to the city’s residents, despite not having the crucial new location on the west side.

“We’re sad that care for women and families got caught up in politics,” Hunsberger says. “Today, two out of three babies born in this community are born to Women’s Care Center moms. This expansion of service would’ve provided care in an area of our community that desperately needs it.”

All across the country, centers such as the South Bend WCC provide the kind of care that enables women to avoid abortion. By compromising the ability of South Bend women to access that care, Buttigieg has proven himself more interested in pleasing the abortion lobby than in providing for the needs of his constituents.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that this was Buttigieg’s first veto since taking office.

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