Huntsville zoning board upholds decision to transfer variance to abortion clinic

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Pro-life and pro-choice activists filled the seats at the city of Huntsville's zoning board meeting Tuesday night to hear an appeal for a prior ruling by the zoning administrator.

That decision said a medical variance issued in 1998 would transfer to a new facility operated by the Alabama Women's Center, where doctors perform abortions. The variance allows the facility to operate as a medical facility even though the neighborhood is zoned residential.

The board ruled 3-to-2 to uphold the decision zoning administrator Jim McGuffey made.

That means the Alabama Women's Center is one step closer to reopening its doors in a new facility on Sparkman Drive.

But those against the facility, didn't go down without a fight.

"We would ask you to be very respectful to everyone here," a zoning board member said early in the meeting.

Rev. James Henderson, the man behind the appeal, took the podium first.

"If an abortion clinic moves in across from Ed White, the whole neighborhood will change to an environment of tension, loud conflict, foul smoke," Henderson said.

Residents near where the clinic would operate expressed concern about what procedures the clinic would do in the area.

"Our children need to have the opportunity to go to school, walk those sidewalks like I did when I was a kid, and not have to go past that every day or one day a week and expect to do well in school," Christopher Horn said.

Wednesday, Pro-Choice advocates said they would not counter pro-life protests outside the Sparkman facility if their license is approved by the state.

Neighbors debated that the surrounding community wasn't informed and hadn't had enough time to weigh in on the situation. But board members disagreed.

"The neighborhood is quite aware that Mr. Johnson's facility was going to be placed at 4831 Sparkman Drive, however, you've only seen a handful of neighbors here tonight in regards to that announcement," Kimberly Ford said.

The site's medical use variance was challenged heavily. But the crowd was split about half and half.

Pro-choice activists worry about what patients will resort to if the facility cannot reopen.

Jayme Calhoun, spokeswoman for Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates says since the downtown clinic closed they have been raising money to help women get the services they need, from pap-smears to abortion services.

"We’ve seen a lot of people that have come to us recently for help," Calhoun told WHNT News on Wednesday.

In the end, the vote to overturn the zoning administrators decision didn't hold up.  Henderson told WHNT News 19 he plans to take the appeal to the next level in circuit court. He plans to file a lawsuit against the city within the next two weeks.


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