More than one hundred anti-abortion protesters packed the Government Center Monday night, accusing the city of unfairly targeting them with possible no-parking signs outside an abortion clinic on Latrobe Drive.
The clinic, A Preferred Women’s Health Center of Charlotte, has been the target of anti-abortion protesters for years. In recent months, the protests have grown larger, especially on Saturday mornings.
The city said it’s studying whether no-parking signs are needed on Latrobe Drive to keep traffic flowing and to ensure people can access the clinic.
One group, Cities4Life, often parks an RV outside the clinic and offers ultrasounds to women going to the clinic. The group said it wants to give women information about their pregnancies and give them information about other options, including adoption.
If the city installed no-parking signs, Cities4Life said its ability to reach women would be limited.
“We offer help and medical truths,” Sheryl Chandler of Charlotte told City Council during a public comment period at Monday’s meeting.
Chandler, who has protested outside the clinic, said the city is “on the war path” to stop protesters and accused Democratic Mayor Jennifer Roberts and at-large council member Julie Eiselt of “threatening to take away” their microphone.
Anti-abortion protesters and abortion-rights groups have fought for years over who receives a noise amplification permit that allows someone to use a bullhorn or a microphone on the sidewalk outside the clinic. Both sides often send the city hundreds of e-mails each night, hoping to arrive as close to midnight as possible. The city awards the permit to whichever side’s e-mail arrives closest to midnight, often to the millisecond.
“It’s easy to silence those you disagree with with regulations,” said Vicky Kaseorg. “Just like it’s easy to call a baby in the womb a clump of cells if you close your eyes to the beating heart.”
Daniel Parks, the leader of Cities4Life, said the consideration of no-parking signs “isn’t motivated by a desire for safety … but the content of our speech.”
Parks ended his speech before council by saying, “We love life!” and was met with thunderous applause.
Council members didn’t speak during the public comment, which is their usual practice. Eiselt has said she visited the Latrobe Drive clinic in February to ensure people could access the clinic safely.
Jasmine Sherman, an abortion-rights advocate, said the protests outside the clinic are unsafe.
“You see individuals blocking the streets,” she said. “Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, and they can still do that. But First Amendment rights have nothing to do with RV units.”
A number of abortion-rights supporters cheered Sherman after she spoke.
Sue DuChanois of Charlotte said no-parking signs would not impede anyone’s right to protest.
Calla Hales, an administrator with A Preferred Women’s Health Center, said all businesses on Latrobe Drive have been affected by the protests.
“Parking spots are not a right covered in the Constitution,” she said. “Free speech should not come at the expense of others.”