A Letter to the Mayor of South Bend IN on the dangers of fake clinics opening next to real ones

UPDATE*: the Mayor vetoed the bill on Friday evening! See footnote for more details!

Early in the week the South Bend Common Council voted to let an anti-abortion rights group open a new location next to the site of a proposed abortion clinic.

The council voted 5-4 to grant the rezoning which would allow a fake clinic to open a new location at 3527 Lincoln Way W., next door to where Whole Woman’s Health Alliance plans to open a non-surgical abortion clinic.

In Louisville, we frequently see patients deceived by the fake clinic located right next door to KY’s only abortion provider. We decided to add a voice to the efforts asking South Bend’s Mayor to stop this rezoning measure to prevent problems before they start. Here is the letter from one of our ESM volunteers:

Dear Mayor Buttigieg,

I’m writing to urge you to veto Bill 05-18, which would approve a rezoning request and allow a fake clinic to move in next door to the Whole Woman’s Health Clinic. As a clinic escort at Kentucky’s abortion clinic (EMW), I cannot overemphasize the potential problems that Bill 05-18 would pose to the public, and to patients of Whole Woman’s
Health Clinic.

Kentucky’s EMW clinic shares a wall with an anti-abortion fake clinic—John Oliver recently did a segment about fake clinics, which often use deception to pose as abortion clinics, spread misinformation about abortion, offer sonograms without the oversight of appropriate medical professionals, and work to misdirect patients into entering the fake clinic. Though EMW has provided quality care for nearly four decades, patients face many challenges, compounded by the fake clinic next door. Though protesters show up every day the EMW clinic is open, on Saturdays dozens of protesters show up,  necessitating multiple police officers, clogging sidewalk foot traffic, and creating an uncomfortable and unsafe environment. The fake clinic acts as a hub for some of the protesters, and their staff attempt to usher in EMW clients by posting confusing signs about free parking or waving in clients (this is particularly confusing for patients who speak English as a second language)—but there are strings attached. Fake clinics use many tactics to prevent abortion, including offering food and beverages to women so that they cannot undergo general anesthesia, or misleading patients about how far along their pregnancy is: delays to abortion can lead to higher costs or being legally prohibited from obtaining an abortion.

I understand that rezoning requests must be approved if the request would be the “most desirable use” for a property, and rezoning should conserve property values in the area. In my experience, tension between an abortion clinic and a nearby fake clinic has a negative impact on the environment for surrounding businesses, regardless of their stance on abortion. The chaos on the sidewalks  necessitate volunteers like me to reduce (and unfortunately we can only reduce, not stop) the harassment and confusion. Clinic escorts at EMW provide directions, offer to walk with patients and their companions, and provide tactical support—information about parking, reminders about things like bringing IDs, and directions to the entrance of the clinic.

As a graduate student [redacted], I have a personal commitment to advocacy; I love being able to offer support to people from all walks of life at the clinic. But I would give it up in a second if the protesters stopped showing up and I could be confident that patients wouldn’t be misled by the fake clinic. It appears to me that you have an important opportunity to prevent some of the ugliness and chaos that we’ve seen near the EMW clinic, and I strongly encourage you to do that by vetoing Bill 05-18.

To be clear, I am not asking that you pass moral judgement against fake clinics. The protesters at EMW, aided by the placement of the fake clinic next door, are a hazard to public safety, and make the area undesirable, plain and simple. Police officers are frequently called, either asked to support scared or angry clients, to clear the sidewalks of protesters to make foot traffic possible (joggers will often run in the road rather than navigate the maze of protesters on the sidewalk), and even to respond to noise complaints—the loudspeakers street preachers set up in front of the clinic bother guests at hotels blocks away. I’ve even seen one hotel guest so upset she came down (at around 8am) to plead with LMPD officers to get the protesters to turn off their loudspeakers.

I could go on at length about the scene at the clinic, but hope I’ve made it clear why it is imperative that you veto Bill 05-18. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me about this important issue, I am happy to answer any questions you may have. Though I’m not a constituent, I hope that I can offer a valuable perspective in this matter.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

P.S. Congratulations on your recent engagement!

Fake clinic sign.jpg

Deception on display at the fake clinic next to KY’s only abortion provider.

*After composing this blog post, we got the following news:

Mayor Buttigieg vetoed #05-18! He even held a press conference and issued a letter explaining why. You can read news coverage here:

https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/south-bend-mayor-pete-buttigieg-vetos-anti-abortion-group-s/article_0b08950f-cd02-5b15-93cf-ff3a29fa2515.html.

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