Pro-choice activists are calling on the city of Charlotte to do more to protect women from harassment when they go to an abortion clinic.
In a press conference held outside of the Government Center in uptown on Thursday, multiple groups criticized the city, and said Charlotte isn’t doing enough to enforce laws that would help prevent women from feeling intimidated by pro-life groups that are protesting outside the clinics.
“The fact is abortion is legal, it’s safe, it’s really not even controversial when you think about it,” said Jen Ferris of Progress NC, who organized the event. “Yet there are people who make it completely inaccessible to those who need it and those who want to provide it.”
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Activists said women seeking abortions in Charlotte are often greeted outside of clinics by pro-life groups who yell profane statements at them, among other harassing behavior. At A Preferred Women’s Health Center on Latrobe Drive in south Charlotte, RVs park outside and attempt to block women from entering with promises of alternative care, the speakers said. The exchanges leave the women feeling under attack, they said.
A representative from the city wasn’t at the press conference. In April, the city said police would patrol the center more frequently. In a statement Thursday, the city said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations has had discussions with anti-abortion protest leaders to make sure they are “aware of lawful means of protesting and understand the consequences of unlawful behavior.”
“During the last several months, CMPD has deployed significantly more resources to Latrobe Drive and has developed a plan to ensure that city ordinances and laws are followed,” the city said in the statement. “CMPD will continue to monitor the situation and may employ additional measures as needed. CMPD is working to ensure that everyone is able to exercise his or her constitutional rights within the bounds of the law.”
Jasmine Sherman from Pro Choice Charlotte, which tries to protect women at A Preferred Women’s Health Center, said the harassment is escalating, and she fears it’ll worsen if the city doesn’t intervene. She said she understands protesters’ right to free speech, but boundaries are regularly crossed.
“It has nothing to do with you saying hate speech,” Sherman said. “Unfortunately hate speech is protected, but there are times and places for that. You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, and I think we need to treat abuse in front of clinics the same way.”
Daniel Parks, director of Cities4Life, the group which protests outside the clinic, denied that protestors yell profane statements to women entering the clinic.
He doesn’t believe tensions are escalating, but if they are, he said the pro-choice group is to blame.
“I don’t think they’ll be appeased until we’re no longer able to exercise our First Amendment rights out there,” Parks said. He thinks the clinic’s ultimate goal is for the city to set up a buffer zone around the clinic.
For now, the activists had three requests for the city:
- Maintain and consistently enforce laws, particularly involving the city’s sound ordinance, and by not allowing parade permit requests that block access to clinics.
- Issue sound permits fairly to groups to help limit harassing noise outside of clinics.
- Place “no parking” signs at A Preferred Women’s Health Center, to keep the RVs that park at the clinic from directing women away. The city decided against placing the signs at the center in April, after anti-abortion groups said it would violate free speech.
Calla Hales, the administrator at A Preferred Women’s Health Center, said the city has felt more pressure in recent months to address the issue, but said now is the time for action.
“It’s not the time to be complacent about these issues,” Hales said. “We are avidly awaiting and very excited to see the city of Charlotte’s next move to ensure that the constitutional rights of patients seeking abortion care will be upheld in this city.”
LaVendrick Smith; 704-358-5101; @LaVendrickS