Abortion Debate Turns Into Battle Over Parking, Free Speech At Charlotte Clinic

Apr 12, 2017

The Charlotte Department of Transportation says it is “evaluating” whether to enact a ban on street parking outside a women’s health clinic in east Charlotte. The ban would primarily affect a number of anti-abortion groups that have been staging near-daily protests outside the clinic for at least the last 12 years.

Most at stake are two mobile RVs equipped with ultrasound units in the back owned and operated by anti-abortion groups, one by the H.E.L.P. Crisis Pregnancy Center of Monroe, and the other by the Pregnancy Resource Center or Charlotte.

Both RVs offer free ultrasounds, abortion counseling, and other resources, according to the groups’ executive directors, and volunteers with the groups have fiercely spoken out against the proposed ban.

“This would hinder our ability to counsel and help these women at the place where they need it most,” said Vicky Kaseorg with H.E.L.P at a recent city council meeting.

In addition to parking the RVs in front of the clinic, abortion rights opponents frequently attempt to wave down cars driving toward the clinic with pamphlets and other materials, and from the sidewalk, volunteers plead with women entering the clinic to instead pay a visit to one of the RVs.

Patrick Courtney, a H.E.L.P. volunteer and ex-firefighter who drives the RV from Monroe to Charlotte most days a week, said parking the RV on the curb directly in front of the clinic is crucial to the group’s mission.

“Where do you park a fire truck?” he said, “It’s not down the road running hoses. It’s right next to the building to save people.”

Nevertheless, abortion rights groups, including the group Pro Choice Charlotte, have pressed the city to enact the parking ban, citing safety concerns. At a city council meeting last month, volunteers with Pro Choice Charlotte said the large RVs restrict sight lines for drivers turning in or out of the clinic, and the situation is made more dangerous by oversized signs propped up against cars that frequently blow over into the road.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of speech,” said Jasmine Sherman, with Pro Choice Charlotte, “But first amendment rights have nothing to do with RV units or cars or traffic.”

'There is no such thing as pro-abortion'

Inside the clinic, every day is a busy one for 27-year-old Calla Hales. She’s the head administrator and co-owner of A Preferred Women’s Health Center. 

"I'm not here to convince you to have an abortion. I'm here to help you with whatever decision is best for you," Hales said. "If that means abortion care we are here to do that safety, if that's adoption I’m here to help you find that contact, if that means carrying to term we will help you find an OB that will help you the best they can."

Calla Hales, co-owner Of A Preferred Women's Health Center.
Credit Sarah Delia

It’s a family business her parents started in 1998 opening the first clinic in Raleigh. Since then three others have opened, one in Augusta, another the Atlanta area, and the busiest location in Charlotte. The clinic in Charlotte sees about 15-30 patients a day and they do primarily provide abortion care.

"There is no such thing as “pro-abortion” that is not a term," Hales said. "No one wakes up one morning and says 'this is a great day to have an abortion.' No."

What’s hurting people on the inside of the clinic she says, is the parking situation on the outside. Hales says through conversations with CMPD and CDOT she thought the traffic problems would soon be solved. But then there was the clash at city council last month and now she doesn’t know what to expect.

"I’m not sure how this became an argument, I didn’t know it could be an argument," she said. "It’s kind of blowing my mind that this is something that may not happen. It’s damn near unfair."

Besides the issue of people walking in the street, Hales says she sometimes gets harassed by anti-abortion protesters on her way into her office.

"I’ve had people degrade me and comment on my sexuality before. On my weight. I’ve been called an ugly white bitch. I’ve had protesters comment on my sexual assault history before. It really runs the gamut of what they are in the mood for that day."

And then there are those free ultra sounds advertised on the vehicles in front of the clinic. There are multiple vehicles operated by different groups. Hales says patients come in sometimes after a missed appointment and she says it’s clear they got inaccurate information from at least one group.

"And now they are too far along to have an abortion in the state of North Carolina," she said. 

CDOT is working with CMPD to evaluate operations along the street. The process is described as ongoing and there’s no clear time table as to when a decision will be made on any parking ban.