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Opinion: Anti-Abortion Protesters Are Not Counselers and Not Essential

In response to David Benham

In an April 27 op-ed published by the Charlotte Observer, David Benham claims that Cities4Life, an anti-abortion organization that regularly protests outside of four Charlotte facilities that provide abortion services and has continued to do so through the stay-at-home order, provides essential social services to our community. As someone quite familiar with Cities4Life’s sidewalk activities, I found this claim alarming. What I find even more alarming is that he was given space to uplift his harmful, extremist views.

So-called “pro-life” groups that cluster around abortion clinics to intimidate and shame patients for medical decisions are not partaking in social services; they are partaking in harassment. Members of this group stand outside clinics with the intent of forcing pamphlets containing medically inaccurate information into patients’ faces as they enter the clinic. They routinely stop cars and impersonate clinic staff to confuse or shame patients into skipping their appointments. These are not social services. This is extremism and it is harmful to our community.

David Benham claims that Cities4Life provides counseling to women in a nonviolent way. However, I have routinely witnessed the psychological warfare that these “sidewalk counselors” use against patients seeking abortion. I have witnessed patients walking into the clinic called murderers and whores. I have witnessed patients being followed and photographs taken of their license plates. I have witnessed verbal assaults against patients disguised as love for their unborn child. This is not peaceful. It is verbal violence and intimidation.

David Benham claims Cities4Life provides resources to women, such as diapers and money for rent and groceries. The USDA estimates the average cost of raising a child in a middle-income home is just under $13,000 per year. After the $100 gift card is depleted, who will cover those remaining expenses? To claim that a baby shower, a package of diapers, or small monetary donation is all that a person seeking abortion needs to change their mind is insulting. David Benham is out of touch with the realities of pregnancy and motherhood.

I trust women. Women know what is best for them and their families. In the year 2020, we have information at our fingertips. Women know their options. Abortion is a difficult choice for many and not a decision that is made on a whim. Patients arriving for abortion care have considered all their options. To claim that without these “sidewalk counselors” women would not know that other options exist is absurd. It is just another verse to the same old tune of devaluing women’s voices. Women do not need David Benham or Cities4Life to save them.

We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Residents in our city are losing jobs and housing. Many are without access to proper healthcare. Cities4Life is putting patients and first responders at higher risk by ignoring social distancing guidelines as they solicit patients and stick their hands, faces, and pamphlets into car windows. If this group truly were “pro-life” and practiced the teachings of Christianity, they would donate their time and money to food banks, shelters, and hospitals instead of stalking patients outside of abortion clinics. Jesus spent his time helping the sick, unhoused and hungry, not shouting at women seeking to end their pregnancies.

Cities4Life is not pro-life. They are pro-birth. It is time we stop giving them a platform to spread their harmful message. It is time we stood up for the women in our city whom they seek to harass. It is time we acknowledge abortion as healthcare. It is time we demand that the City of Charlotte do better to end this harassment.

The last thing any of us need right now is nonmedical “sidewalk counselors” attempting to give strangers medical advice or another man telling a woman what to do with her body.

Sarah Haley is co-founder and executive director of the Charlotte Reproductive Action Network.

For more reporting on Cities4Life, including a video interview with its founder, click here

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