Lives will be honored in the very place they were taken with the construction of Hope Park, the first memorial park to the unborn in the city of Toledo and state of Ohio, built on the site of a now-shuttered abortion clinic.
The Center for Choice, which began its abortion business 1983, closed in 2013 and was purchased by a Toledo-area pro-life consortium in 2014. The building was demolished this August to make way for what will be known as Hope Park, intended as a place of healing and restoration for families who have felt the effects of abortion.
In 2013, the Ohio Department of Health ordered the center’s closure and cited the facility for numerous health violations. The facility was found to be non-compliant with Ohio’s law requiring a transfer agreement with a local hospital, when all three Toledo-area hospitals refused to sign such an agreement.
The land of the closed center went up for absolute auction in the fall of 2014, when a group of area pro-life leaders joined together to pray about obtaining the land.
“When praying to keep the center closed, God gave me a vision of a demolished abortion clinic with a memorial park in its place,” Denise Emerine, director of the Greater Toledo House of Prayer said.
When the building came up for auction, Emerine and the rest of the group were praying together, trying to discern the right price for the building.
That’s when, Emerine said, God put Isaiah 61:3 on their hearts: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me… to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit…”
“If you read Isaiah 61, it’s beautiful,” Savannah Marten, director of The Pregnancy Center of Toledo, said. “It speaks of setting the captives free, and is a perfect picture of how the Lord has spoken into the property and what he desires it to become.”
In the midst of the auction itself, Emerine and her team lost connection with their on-location representative, and were afraid they’d missed their chance to purchase the building because of a technical difficulty.
Their fears vanished when they got back in touch, however. The building was theirs, and the price tag was a familiar number.
“We now own the property at $61,000,” Emerine said. “We have the deed and a key, we have the name of the project, ‘Isaiah 61.’ Now, we’re in the next phase of moving forward with God in this really beautiful adventure he has our city on to build Hope Park with him.”
Set to open in October 2017, Hope Park is itself an outworking of a remarkable partnership of the pro-life community in Toledo.
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The consortium formed to purchase and develop Hope Park is made up of three local pregnancy help centers, along with the Diocese of Toledo, the Foundation of Life and the Greater Toledo House of Prayer.
“It’s not about a single donor or non-profit, but the city of Toledo as a whole re-capturing our community and providing a place for healing and restoration,” Marten said. “The Pregnancy Center will benefit immensely from the park being in our community. We have a vibrant abortion recovery program at our center, and we intend to use Hope Park for our memorial services.”
Hope Park will be the most recent life-affirming effort to locate itself in an ex-abortion business. This August, a Christian social services agency that works closely with a local pregnancy center bought and converted an abortion clinic formerly owned by notorious abortionist James Pendergraft in Ocala, Fla.
Keying off the same passage in Isaiah, a Philadelphia-based pregnancy center is utilizing space directly next door to the former clinic of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell, who ran a late-term abortion clinic in West Philadelphia from 1979 to his arrest in 2010.
Former abortion clinics turned into life-affirming pregnancy centers in recent years include two in Iowa—including one former Planned Parenthood clinic—two in Miami, and a former flagship Planned Parenthood building in Bryan, Texas, that now houses both 40 Days for Life and a pregnancy center.
Modeled after The National Memorial for the Unborn in Chattanooga, Tenn.—itself a former abortion clinic—the goal for Hope Park’s creators is for area women to begin or continue a healing path after having experienced abortion.
“Quite a few women who enter our abortion recovery program had their abortions performed at the Center for Choice facility,” Marten said. “What an amazing picture of redemption for these women to re-visit the very site of their abortion to find a beautiful memorial park in its place. We’re really excited for the opportunity to use Hope Park for abortion recovery, and we pray other pregnancy centers throughout the region and state are able to do the same.
“The life affirming ministries of Toledo see Hope Park as so much more than a memorial to the unborn, but a place for all to find peace and reconciliation with God.”
Peter Range, Respect Life coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Toledo, said he is looking forward to watching Hope Park play a role in rebuilding a culture of life.
“We want to recognize the dignity of the unborn child, the mother, the father and even the abortion nurses and doctors,” Range said. “A culture of life has to be rooted in a culture of love—and that means loving everyone involved in this abortion decision.”
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With one abortion clinic remaining in Toledo, the Capital Care Network—which was also found to be in non-compliance with the transfer agreement law in 2014 but has remained in business—the group is looking to Hope Park as a reminder of the power of God and the primary role of prayer in the battle for lives.
“As our city continues to pray and work for life, we can look at Hope Park and remember that we serve a God who answers prayer,” Marten said. “When we ask him to tear down walls, he actually does it.”