Emma Granowsky, Caroline Roddey, Kristen Sands-

Located in Charlotte, NC, A Preferred Women’s Health Center (APWHC) offers the abortion pill and in-office abortion procedures to women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy. Their staff of physicians, nurses, and counselors are committed to offering the highest quality of individualized supportive and confidential care. Unfortunately, the providers at APWHC face daily harassment while they care for their patients. The anti-choice protesters who riot outside the clinic are amongst the most intense in the country.

Since summer 2016, anti-choice protesters have targeted APWHC. Many times these protests become disturbingly personal. Clinics like APWHC struggle with how to best protect patients’ privacy and well-being. While protesting is legal, Calla Hales, director of APWHC in Charlotte, notes that “there are certain protesters who come out daily and photograph/document license plates – no matter what their excuses are, this is purely harassment. There is no legal or ethical reason to do this.” Anti-choice protestors also arrive with “ultrasound buses”, recreational vehicles carrying ultrasound machines that are not staffed by medical professionals. Anti-choice individuals use these fraudulent vehicles to try to coerce women into not having abortions.

Calla Hales spoke to the experience of patients as they attempt to enter the clinic, saying that they are “typically very upset and agitated coming into the clinic.” Due to North Carolina laws, before patients even broach the clinic doors, they have already had to endure mandatory counseling as well as a 72-hour waiting period to be eligible for an abortion procedure. Calla explains that the intention of the wait period is to “make sure that individuals are fully conscious of their decision”, and points out that abortion is the only medical procedure in the United States that carries a mandatory counseling and wait period. Hales describes the impact of the protesters, “Approaching the clinic, patients are subject to protesters directing traffic away from the clinic, walking in traffic and approaching their vehicles, and being bombarded with harassment, music, lies, graphic imagery, and overt religious guilt over loudspeakers. It’s traumatizing.”

To maneuver through this crowd, patients and providers must rely on police to ensure their safety.  However, when it comes to law enforcement, Calla points out that, “there’s a definite lack of enforcement from CMPD [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department]. It feels very important to point out here that this is not necessarily a fault of the officers responding – what really impacts enforcement is training. There’s a lot of confusion about interpreting ordinances, enforcing them, and penalizing violations of them. I strongly believe that CMPD needs updated training on clinic violence and the current public safety ordinances.”

This lack of training and limited police support is concerning, and often leads to chaotic situations, in which patients and providers feel unprotected.  Nevertheless, it is possibly more troubling that police protection is needed in the first place.  Many individuals who seek care at APWHC already feel vulnerable to police and governmental oppression.  Given the current political tension regarding reproductive health and treatment of minorities, in particular, the presence of additional governmental force, could serve as a deterrent for patients seeking care and induce additional distress.

Updated CMPD trainings on clinic violence and public safety ordinances could improve clinic safety and patient wellbeing. Currently, APWHC is fighting to protect their patients by imploring the Charlotte City Council to vote on placing “No Parking” signs outside of the clinic, which would hinder some of the anti-choice buses that come to protest. This vote has been repeatedly delayed, but organizations such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood, as well as local pro-choice groups in Charlotte are asking activists to send emails to Charlotte City Council members asking them to vote ‘yes.’

For more insight on the situation and a chance to hear from Calla Hales, come to Planned Parenthood Generation Action’s screening of Care in Chaos art 7PM in Hance on October 23rd. The thirty-minute documentary on the experience of patients and providers at APWHC will be followed by remarks from Calla herself as well as a group discussion. Looking for other ways to get involved? Calla Hales graciously shared her perspective, as a director and advocate, of the three most critical ways students can support abortion access and reproductive rights in North Carolina.

 

  1. Donate to abortion funds like Carolina Abortion Fund or Access Reproductive Care Southeast.  These organizations, “will directly aid patients in need of financial assistance seeking care. There are multiple organizations across the state, like ProChoice Charlotte, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, Progress NC, and SisterSong that work on advocating on behalf of access in multiple settings across the state.”
  2. Volunteer your time and work power! “Several clinics in the state have clinic escort programs in place to help patients access their appointment while maintaining privacy and offering support. Many organizations (including the ones listed) often utilize volunteers for advocacy and educational events, and for help in policy work (garnering support through petitions, canvassing, and phone banking).”
  3. “Above all, one of the best ways to support abortion access on a college campus is to get informed about the facts of abortion care.”