News & Opinion

As Abortion Laws Take Center Stage Nationwide, Charlotte Looks Away

abortion law
More than 700 protesters showed up outside A Preferred Women’s Health Center in east Charlotte on Saturday, Nov. 13. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Following the passage of abortion laws such as Texas’ “fetal heartbeat law,” which effectively bans all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, causing advocates to worry that other states could follow suit, one might expect increased attention on the situation at an abortion clinic on Charlotte’s east side that has been the target of increasingly tense demonstrations for years. Yet the situation at A Preferred Women’s Health Center (APWHC) on Latrobe Drive suggests otherwise. 

“It feels [like] the opposite,” APWHC owner Calla Hales responded when I asked if awareness is growing in the wake of the Texas anti-abortion law, which has resulted in her clinic beginning to take in patients from that state. 

“Before COVID, we were getting an upswing in folks knowing what was going on, and we were getting media involved, and education was coming, and it’s all really disappeared. You’re the first local person I’ve talked to in the media in over a year,” Hales told me.

I spoke to Hales on Saturday, Nov. 13, as she looked out at a group of around 700 marchers with Love Life Charlotte, a group that formed locally five years ago and has since branched out to 13 other cities. She stated what was already clear to both of us: “This hasn’t stopped.”

An anti-abortion protester argues with Charlotte for Choice volunteers in front of the clinic on Saturday. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The anti-abortion group regularly gathers on Saturdays for large-scale events. The volunteers hold concerts on a stage that the organization built right next door to the APWHC offices and go on silent prayer marches. While leaders of the organization often discourage Love Life marchers from yelling at clinic patients, the marchers often do anyway, and work in support of the many people who stand outside the clinic on a daily basis to harass patients. 

The weekend was notable as it marked the end of Love Life’s annual “40 Week Journey of Hope” initiative, which draws supporters of their cause from across the region, although Hales said that the approximately 700 marchers is actually less than they’ve seen in the past, when the numbers have ballooned well past 1,000 people. 

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Some pro-choice people fear the new abortion laws around the country means similar legislation could be coming to North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

She posited that perhaps the opening of so many other branches, including in nearby cities like Raleigh, Fayetteville, Greensboro and Greenville, South Carolina, might have diffused their efforts somewhat.

Hales said the last time anyone from the media had reached out was back at the start of the pandemic, when eight anti-abortion demonstrators were arrested, including three generations of the infamous Benham family — Flip, David and Bailey — for violating the mass gatherings portion of the Emergency Prohibitions and Restrictions laid out in a statewide order. 

“It’s really frustrating, because you don’t even know who to ask for help at this point,” Hales said of the situation. “We’ve talked to [Charlotte] City Council, we’ve done that route. You know, that was really useless. We’ve talked to CMPD, that’s useless. It’s frustrating.”

Charlotte City Council approved a local noise ordinance in the summer of 2019, prohibiting sound amplification within 150 feet of medical facilities, as well as places of worship and schools. However, since buying the plot of land next to the AWPHC, Love Life can set up their speakers just past that barrier. 

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Counter-protesters work to drown out music and other harassment by anti-abortion protesters. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Hales said she has hired a surveyor to come out to the property and measure the true distance, as she claimed the speakers usually sit closer to 100 feet from the clinic than 150. She said the surveyor put out plot markers that mysteriously went missing and her calls for enforcement of the ordinance have gone ignored. 

While the number of demonstrators on Nov. 13 was less than on previous weekends, Hales said she has seen an increase in the number of what she calls “lone wolves” turning up at the clinic from outside of the state. 

“Love Life is very quick to say they have nothing to do with that,” Hales added, arguing that they take steps to distance themselves from those lone actors because they are “primarily focused on marketability and being outwardly likable.”

“We’ve literally become an abortion tourism destination,” she continued. “So, we’re just having to keep an eye out on that.” 

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More than 50 clinic escorts and other volunteers showed up to help patients and counter the protesters on Saturday. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Heather Mobley is a board member with Charlotte for Choice, which trains volunteers to act as clinic defenders and escorts to help patients get to their appointments with as minimal harassment as possible. More than 50 Charlotte for Choice volunteers showed up on Saturday to help counter the protesters. 

Mobley said some protesters outside the clinic call the Texas law “immoral,” because it doesn’t go far enough in banning abortions.

“But then we also hear, ‘Texas is coming here,’ [and], ‘North Carolina is next,’” Mobley recounted. 

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Newly passed abortion laws around the country have given hope and momentum to the anti-abortion movement. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Abortion laws have popped up in the North Carolina General Assembly over the years. Most recently, state Republicans attempted to pass House Bill 453, which would have prohibited an abortion unless the physician “has confirmed the abortion is not being sought because of the actual or presumed race or sex of the unborn child or the presence or presumed presence of Down syndrome.” 

It was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, with the GOP lacking the supermajority necessary to override his veto. 

“Right now with [Republicans] not having a supermajority in the state legislature, and [the state] having a Democrat governor, North Carolina, thankfully, shouldn’t have to worry about [abortion laws] for now, but obviously upcoming elections could impact that at any point,” noted Mobley.

abortion laws
CMPD officers interact with anti-abortion protesters like Flip Benham (far right) who show up
regularly outside the clinic to harass patients. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

In the meantime, Hales said she will try to push the idea of abortion laws gaining ground in North Carolina to the back of her head as she focuses on her patients.

“I would be a bold-faced liar if I told you I wasn’t scared of that, and that I didn’t have fear and concerns,” she admitted. “But I can tell you that the best we can do right now, here and in Georgia, for all the clinics that I’m working with, the best we can do is help patients right now and keep our doors open as long as we can and deal with it as it comes … Focusing on the fear isn’t going to help patients.”

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