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A Movement Grows Outside of East Charlotte Abortion Clinic

The 'New Feminist' defenders

The video begins with a 19-year-old woman relaxing in a lawn chair outside of A Preferred Women’s Health Center, an abortion clinic on Latrobe Drive in east Charlotte where tensions between anti-abortion activists and pro-choice clinic defenders have risen in recent years.

In the video, the 19-year-old clinic defender nonchalantly reads the lyrics to the song “WAP,” which stands for Wet Ass Pussy. She’s talking calmly, but just loud enough to drown out Philip “Flip” Benham, a known religious extremist who has spent nearly 20 years protesting and harassing patients at the east Charlotte clinic. While Benham is usually the loudest man on Latrobe Drive, he looks bewildered by the woman’s confident reading of Cardi B and Meg Thee Stallion’s gospel. He continues to read a Bible passage aloud just feet away from her.

The video, posted to TikTok on Aug. 25th, garnered 2.5 million views and nearly 1 million likes on the app and was shared around different social media platforms, making national headlines on sites like TMZ, Insider, and Daily Motion.

Clinic defenders like the woman in the clip, who goes by @alexthefeminist on TikTok, and the one who shot the video, @42069horndog, have gotten growing attention for the posts they’ve filmed in front of the clinic as things there have heated up over the summer.

For example, another video posted just two days after the “WAP” one shows counterprotesters blasting Gillette’s “Short Dick Man” at an anti-abortion protester holding a grotesque sign depicting an alleged aborted fetus. The “Short Dick Man” video built on the success of “WAP,” garnering more than 1.6 million views.

Clinic defenders change tactics

It’s all part of a new strategy in front of the east Charlotte abortion clinic, ushered in by a new group of young women like the teens that shot the above-mentioned TikToks.

The women have taken a more aggressive approach to confronting and countering the protesters who stand outside the clinic every day from Monday through Saturday and harass patients as they walk inside to receive services.

The group has gotten the crucial endorsement of APWHC owner Calla Hales. For years, Halles had asked that counterprotesters in front of the clinic simply help direct traffic and engage with anti-abortion protesters as little as possible. This year, however, that’s all changing.

“We decided that we want to meet them where they’re at. We don’t want this to go unchallenged anymore,” said Nicole Ash, board member with Charlotte for Choice, the nonprofit organization that for years has provided escort services for patients in front of the clinic. “These tactics that we’ve adopted have, yes, increased the aggressiveness of anti-abortion protesters. However, it also makes it harder and more uncomfortable for them to be out there. That’s what we want.”

Charlotte abortion clinic
Local activist Kristie Puckett-Williams acts as counterprotester on a recent Saturday morning at APWHC. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The change in strategy has led to an upheaval of sorts within Charlotte for Choice. On Aug. 25, the same day the “WAP” video was uploaded, Ash, Hales and Heather Peagler released a statement acknowledging the resignations of four fellow board members who made up the organization’s clinic escort team, which for years met patients in the parking lot and used umbrellas to block them from the anti-abortion protesters screaming from the road.

“While it has been no secret that C4C has been experiencing some very hard and emotional growing pains, it’s sad to see these incredibly dedicated women part ways with the organization,” the statement read. “While we’re parting right now with raw emotions and different opinions, the remaining board members promise to keep both their criticisms and feedback in mind as the organization attempts to restructure and move forward.”

A noise ordinance for naught

Queen City Nerve visited the clinic on a recent Saturday as around 400 prayer marchers with anti-abortion group Love Life Charlotte showed up for one of the organization’s 40 Weeks of Life marches. On that September morning, about 20 clinic defenders lined up on the street directly in front of the property that Love Life purchased next to the clinic offices.

The group of mostly women yelled anything that came to mind at the hundreds of prayer marchers, who stood in their matching teal shirts and looked ahead at the stage. Organizers asked that the marchers not engage with the clinic defenders, whom they called devils multiple times over their loudspeakers.

According to Hales, it was Love Life’s purchase of this property in 2018 that led in part to her eventual support for more aggressive tactics there.

Charlotte abortion clinic
Clinic defenders attempt to block the view of Love Life anti-abortion protesters and Cities4Life founder Daniel Parks at the APWHC entrance. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

In 2019, Charlotte City Council passed an amendment to the city’s sound ordinance that prohibited amplified sound and “unreasonable noise” within 150 feet of medical facilities, places of worship and schools. That includes any abortion clinic in Charlotte. According to Hales, however, the fact that Love Life is holding concerts on their own private property now makes the ordinance moot.

“You can’t escape that, even with the sound ordinance, you cannot escape the noise and the impact of them having a property next door,” Hales told Queen City Nerve. “The real change started happening once people realized that the sound ordinance, while it has been super effective for other people and has been helpful for other businesses in the business park, it’s not helpful for us … We’re all incredibly frustrated as patients, as staff, as volunteers. This has been a five-year uphill battle that has never really stopped.”

Another source of that frustration has been the perceived unwillingness of CMPD officers at the site to enforce the few regulations that are on the books.

There’s a heavy police presence but not much enforcement in front of the east Charlotte abortion clinic. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

On our visit in early September, about a dozen police officers stood by while hundreds of marchers walked by them without wearing masks or practicing social distancing. A group of bike police rode next to the marchers, who claim to be exempt from COVID-19 regulations because they are acting as a “nonprofit providing services.” Requests for comment from CMPD for this article went unanswered.

The ‘New Feminists’ 

So for now, clinic defenders will continue to engage protesters themselves, playing a game of distraction to allow patients easier access while anti-abortion protesters are busy with defenders. They will also continue to post on TikTok, the viral nature of which has helped raise awareness for what’s happening outside of the clinic and for reproductive justice in general.

It can be grating on the women who post the TikToks; some have received harassment or threats online, while other clinic defenders like Britt Christmas have seen an overwhelmingly positive experience.

Britt Christmas began volunteering with Charlotte for Choice in June. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

“I mostly get love and positivity,” Christmas told Queen City Nerve. “I know that they do get a lot of hate, but I’ll get [direct messages] and comments from people all the time who are like, ‘I didn’t even know this was happening at clinics,’ and they started volunteering in their own state or their own city. Lots of people tell us that they look at us and when they’re older they want to be able to volunteer for things like this and make a positive impact on people’s lives.”

For Winthrop student and clinic defender Grayce Kellam, what’s happening on Latrobe Drive is about more than making religious extremists blush through reading provocative lyrics. It’s a movement.

Grayce Kellam began volunteering with Charlotte for Choice in June. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

“We like to say that we’re the New Feminists,” Kellam said. “It’s a new time, it’s a new age, it’s time to change our language, it’s time to hear other people, it’s time to come together and share art and music and our thoughts and our feelings and just really be here for each other. It’s just a big family; all the girls, we’ve gotten really close.”

And the New Feminist family is no longer taking anyone’s shit quietly.

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