The saga over parking and traffic violations outside of an abortion clinic in Charlotte marched on at City Council this week. The clinic had wanted there to be a parking ban on the street in front of the facility, but instead there will be a higher CMPD presence. WFAE’s Mark Rumsey spoke with Sarah Delia for an update.
MARK RUMSEY: So Sarah, what is at the center of this parking debate?
SARAH DELIA: For months, A Preferred Women’s Health Center on Latrobe Drive was under the impression that it was getting what it wanted: no parking signs on the street in front of the clinic. Abortion rights opponents will often park a large RV there that advertises free ultrasounds.
The clinic argues the vehicles take up space that makes it hard to drive, it can be confusing for women coming to their appointment, and that protesters go in the road to try and hand out anti-abortion information. The protesters say this is their First Amendment right and that they do not impede the flow of traffic.
MARK: So who made the city's decision and why?
SARAH: CDOT (Charlotte Department of Transportation) studied the parking and traffic issues and made a recommendation based on an evaluation it started in February. City Manager Marcus Jones agreed with the findings. Jones said there are some legitimate safety concerns, but that they will not be adding the no parking signs. Instead CMPD will have a much more visible presence.
MARCUS JONES: More importantly we are going to take appropriate action to deter this unsafe and unlawful behavior. In other words, blocking cars. But also we are going to work with building community relations to get both sides of the protesters together to discuss what is lawful and what is unlawful.
MARK: What was the reaction from various council members?
SARAH: There was a mixed reaction, but definitely several members were disappointed by this decision including Councilwoman Julie Eiselt. This is what she said Monday night:
Julie Eiselt: It’s the job of council to make sure that the law is being followed. Whether it’s on Latrobe or Trade and Tryon it shouldn’t be any different. The behavior that takes place there would not be tolerated in the middle of Charlotte. Just because it’s on a road that not a lot of people go on doesn’t mean it should be treated any differently.
She also pointed out that multiple businesses on Latrobe Drive have contacted her about the protesters and the parking situation. She said one business in particular is an outpatient mental health practice that said some of its patients are stopped by protesters on their way to their appointments.
Councilwoman Vi Lyles pointed out that she has driven to the clinic and experienced people coming up to her car trying to hand her literature, she said she did not feel particularly comfortable or safe.
MARK: Well, who asked that this evaluation be completed in the first place?
SARAH: CMPD had concerns about activity on Latrobe Drive and requested CDOT do this traffic study. This whole traffic and parking situation has sort of become a hot potato no one really wants to touch. That is, except for the clinic and the protesters outside.
MARK: And what reaction did the anti-abortion side have?
SARAH: I spoke with Pastor Daniel Parks. He’s the director of Cities 4 Life in Charlotte. He said he’s glad the city decided against the parking ban, but he doesn’t see the need for the increase in police.
Daniel Parks: In a real sense it is a waste of the city’s resources to have CMPD out here. It’s just like the no parking signs, it was a solution searching for a problem because there has not been issues.
MARK: And, of course, there are two sides to every story…
SARAH: Yes, there is Mark. Calla Hales runs the clinic. She’s quite confused about why the city declined to enforce the no parking signs but will increase the amount of police in the area.
Calla Hales: It wouldn’t interfere with anyone’s First Amendment rights to speak. Protesters can be present on the side walk. It would widen the road for patients and people attending other business nearby.
SARAH: And Mark the one thing the two sides have in common is neither is giving up. Pastor Parks said even if there eventually is a ban on parking, they’ll still be there. And Calla Hales says the clinic is looking into appealing this decision.