Charlotte City Council approved changes to the local noise ordinance at its Monday meeting, creating “buffer zones” that prohibit amplified noise within 150 feet of medical facilities, places of worship and schools.
The vote came after a contentious three hours, during which activists staged a direct action protest that sent council into recess, followed by a public forum that saw more than 100 people address the council about the changes to the noise ordinance.
Most of the controversy revolved around abortion access, as protests outside of clinics in Charlotte have intensified in recent years.
Most of the speakers at Monday’s meeting — whether for or against the changes — discussed abortion access in some way or another. Many of those speaking against the changes were there with Love Life Charlotte, a group that holds Saturday protests outside A Preferred Women’s Health Center in east Charlotte.
Just as the meeting began around 6:30 p.m. on Monday night, a group of seven activists rushed the dais, with two jumping up on the dais and holding a sign that read, “City of Charlotte silences women, amplifies misogyny.”
On the floor, a woman read a prepared statement, stating in part, “We refuse to accept this little noise ordinance, which is nothing but an empty liberal promise compared to what the working class actually deserve, which is the right to access abortion without fear of misogynist retaliation.”
Following the speech, the activists tried to leave the building. Two were arrested in the chambers, while another was arrested in the atrium outside.
Much of Monday night’s debate centered around whether the new ordinance would prohibit free speech by not allowing noise at a certain volume near the aforementioned institutions.
While a majority of public forum speakers who showed up on Monday night spoke against the changes, more than half of those speakers do not actually live in Charlotte.
One Charlotte woman who spoke against the changes was Megan Tolosa, who accused the council of trying to suppress those they disagree with politically.
“You haven’t been able to silence the voices you disagree with so you take away their microphone?” Tolosa asked.
With well over 100 Love Life supporters in attendance on Monday night, many of them were forced to watch from outside the council chambers in the atrium, from which their loud cheers could be heard in the chambers after each speaker who opposed the changes.
Alix Healy, a supporter of the changes, said that, despite claims of discrimination by many Love Life marchers at Monday’s meeting, reproductive health clinics already face discrimination at the hands of the hundreds of protesters who show up outside their doors to yell at employees, patients and patient companions, often with loudspeakers.
“Free speech does not protect dangerous behavior,” Healy said.
Many Love Life representatives on Monday maintained that they are only at the clinic to worship and pray, stating that they do not yell at or disrespect the patients. The new ordinance will not prohibit them from prayer or worship, nor will it keep them from standing any specific distance from the clinic property line.
The new changes will, however, prohibit Love Life from holding concerts with large speakers just across the street from the clinic, as they often do, and on a stage the organization built next to the clinic on a property that they bought and cleared for that purpose.
At-large council member Dimple Ajmera was the first to speak following the long public forum on Monday night.
“This is an issue of access to healthcare,” Ajmera said. “We, the city, are not in the business to provide healthcare services, however, we are in the business of ensuring our residents have access to healthcare in a safe and respectful manner.”
District 7 representative Ed Driggs followed up on Ajmera’s comments by saying that he would vote against the changes.
“I do regret these women approaching the clinic in a difficult situation are subjected to the stress, and I don’t personally approve of the use of overly loud noise to try and heighten that distress,” Driggs said. “However, we do have to realize that any attempt to address the situation at [APWHC], is going to lead to a public abortion and First Amendment debate, and I think that’s perfectly clear from our experience here. The public meetings, the emails and tonight’s session, it’s perfectly clear that while we may be talking about sound, everyone else is talking about something else.”
Driggs, who has long voiced his opposition to the noise ordinance changes, voted against them, along with fellow Republican council member Tariq Bokhari and District 4 Democratic representative Greg Phipps.
After the 8-3 vote in favor of the changes, many of those in attendance spilled out into the atrium of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. On the steps of the building, Love Life founder Justin Reeder rallied his supporters by playing on the “persecution” theme and saying that the new changes to the law were a good sign.
“I believe that this is going to do nothing but accelerate the advancement of the kingdom,” Reeder told the crowd. “Any time there’s any persecution of any type, there’s always an acceleration.”