Saturday, December 2, almost 1,500 anti-abortion protesters gathered in front of A Preferred Woman’s Health Center in Charlotte. This protest was planned to be the largest anti-abortion protest since the early 1990s. The clinic worked hard to prepare for the protesters by scheduling appointments earlier and doubling the number of clinic escorts outside of the clinic. Those seeking abortion care should not be forced to face this gauntlet of stigma and shame. It’s time for the Charlotte City Council to take action.
The hundreds of new protesters joined the usual regular cast of street preachers, “sidewalk counselors,” and other abortion protesters who gather at the driveway on Latrobe Drive six days a week. Over the last year, Calla Hales, the director of APWHC, has seen the number of abortion opponents increase day by day, as Rewire documented in its film Care in Chaos. According to Hales, as of the beginning of November, the clinic had already seen 12,000 protesters this year—with at least two events drawing more than 1,000 protesters each. LLC’s 40 week wrap-up appears to have dwarfed them all.
“This whole year, things have been getting worse,” agreed Angela Anders, a Pro-Choice Charlotte member who organizes escorts for the clinic. “The city is paying less and less attention to us the more noise we make.”
Learning from last year’s LLC event, Hales sought out more assistance in preparation for what was planned to be the largest protest at an abortion clinic since the end of the rescue movement in the early 1990s. Clinic escorts and reproductive rights allies from Kentucky and Alabama drove into town, primarily holding signs to direct patients away from protesters and down the long stretch of circular road that leads to the clinic. Other volunteers dispersed throughout the mile of street, urging cars not to stop to talk to those with anti-abortion leaflets or carrying signs so traffic would flow smoothly while patients were being dropped off for procedures.
“It’s good to have these defenders here,” said Jasmine Sherman of Pro-Choice Charlotte told Rewire. “But we need this many every day, not just on parade days.”
The clinic also reorganized how it would schedule patients in order to minimize their contact with marchers and other abortion opponents. “This morning we are starting appointments earlier in the day than normal, we have twice as many escorts here as normal just to help be a comforting presence, a sign that it’s OK to be here,” said Anders. She told Rewire that patients were warned about the anti-choice presence and asked if they would prefer to come in Friday or Monday instead. “But obviously Saturday is the day you can, if you work,” said Anders.
Clinic staff and volunteers consider LLC’s march to be an aggressive effort to intimidate patients out of terminating their pregnancies. But David Benham, who acted as spokesperson for LLC in a media briefing, claimed otherwise. Benham is the son of Operation Save America’s Flip Benham and founder of Cities4Life, an active sidewalk ministry whose members intercept patients outside APWHC to try to direct them to local “crisis pregnancy centers.”