On Saturday, December 2, thousands of anti-abortion protesters marched down Latrobe Drive and blocked access to North Carolina’s busiest abortion clinic, A Preferred Women’s Health Center. The clinic saw almost 50 fewer patients than they typically see on a Saturday because people did not feel comfortable driving to the clinic with so many protesters outside. This is absolutely unacceptable — abortion care should be shame and stigma-free.
The march itself is massive in scale. It stretches on for nearly a mile and takes half an hour to pass the clinic in its entirety. Along the route, church leaders have erected little tents, from which they shout words of encouragement, urging marchers to think of souls of the unborn. This is the third massive “prayer walk” LLC has staged in recent months—it’s not even the first to attract thousands of marchers—and the scale of the group’s actions keeps growing: “This whole year, things have been getting worse,” Angela Anders, a volunteer who organizes escorts for the clinic, told Rewire. LLC organizers are sanguine about the future of their movement, and say they’re already talking to anti-abortion groups in other states about exporting their tactics elsewhere.
On an average day, A Preferred Women’s Health Center can see up to 80 patients. On the day of the protest, less than 30 women made it through the clinic doors. “We did have some phone calls for reschedules and people who didn’t feel comfortable driving down. That sucks, especially on Saturday, which a lot of people have off from work or from school. It’s the most accessible day for patients,” says Calla Hales, the director of APWHC. “It’s horrible to know that some people drove hours to get here, only to be turned away by the thought and the fear of this protest.”
Hales has worked in reproductive health for her entire life; her mother and stepfather opened the first APWHC location, in Raleigh, when she was eight. She recalls watching her family struggle through the height of anti-abortion extremism in the country. “It was terrible,” she says. “Their friends were dying and being killed outside of their own clinics or, in some cases, their churches. It kind of died down for a while and got calm again—I guess trying to be that more palatable cause—and now it’s ramping right back up. It just seems it’s a different type of ramp-up this time.”
“It used to be,” she continues, “there was a small group of very angry and very righteous people… and now it looks like there’s these large numbers of people who really just are driven by this group mentality of, This is wrong. There may be only a few people in there who have that violent streak, but it’s almost cultish sometimes with how they’re all in groupthink.”