CHARLOTTE, N.C. (LaVendrick Smith | The Charlotte Observer) - The leader of a Charlotte abortion clinic claims the city improperly gave a pro-life group a parade permit, and is demanding answers after a large protest at the facility Saturday left patients feeling harassed.
Calla Hales, the administrator at Preferred Women's Health Center of Charlotte on Latrobe Drive, said the city had rushed approval for a permit for pro-life group Love Life Charlotte. That left Hales' center less time than usual to prepare for the demonstration, she said.
The event was billed as a prayer march that would draw 1,000 men to the clinic to stand against abortion, according to a Facebook page. Justin Reeder, founder of Love Life Charlotte, called on men to discourage women from getting abortions, in an effort to highlight how abortion impacts men.
"The truth is that this is more of a men's issue than it is a women's issue," Reeder said in a video on the Facebook event page. "We forget about the men so often in this story."
Hales said she knew a rally was in the works, but didn't think much of it because protesters are outside the clinic throughout the week. She learned of Reeder's event a few weeks ago through the Facebook post.
She said as of a week ago, no permit had been issued.
But on Tuesday, she said one of her clinic volunteers told her the permit had been issued that day. Hales said she verified the information with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and the city. She said the city made a mistake in granting the permit because they typically have to be requested 30 days in advance of an event, and Hales claimed that Reeder's group did not meet that criteria.
A representative from Love Life Charlotte couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.
Linda Durrett, a spokeswoman with the Charlotte Department of Transportation, said in an email that an ordinance allows for the city to waive the 30-day advance notice rule. She did not say if that was the case for the Saturday rally.
The clinic is used to protestors. But Hales said Saturday's event was larger and more raucous than usual, with up to 600 protestors. There was an effort to talk women out of going to the clinic, and kids sang what Hales described as explicit songs about life in the womb.
"It was just across the board, a higher level than we're used to," Hales said
Hales said the intensity of protests at the clinic has increased over the past year, and she thinks a big reason is the current political climate.
In April, the city decided against putting no-parking signs outside the clinic, allowing an anti-abortion group that provides free ultrasounds to stage an RV there.
Hales said patients typically are upset and frightened by protests. Saturday's rally was no different.
"It is very intense being out there," she said. "It's hard to drive somewhere, seeking healthcare. Seeking care for a decision that may have not been the easiest decision to make, and to drive through a sea of people who don't know you, who don't know your situation and judge you the whole way through."