Anti-abortion group sues City of Charlotte over steps taken to limit demonstrations

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - An anti-abortion group filed a lawsuit Friday against the City of Charlotte alleging that city is violating the group's First Amendment rights by taking steps to limit their demonstrations outside an abortion clinic.

Cities4Life, and its Executive Director Daniel Parks, claim that members of the city council are "working with pro-abortion groups to develop ways to interfere with and curtail Cities4Life's ministry and free speech."

One way the group claims its rights are being violated, according to the lawsuit, is a proposed ban on parking on the street outside the Preferred Women's Health Center.

DOCUMENT: Click here to read the unedited lawsuit

The lawsuit also cites several instances between June and October of 2017 where members of Cities4Life, along with Parks, were issued citations for signage being displayed. The lawsuit states the signs were destroyed shortly after being confiscated.

The group claims city officials are incorrectly interpreting City Code 10-212 - a code that the group claims is unconstitutional to begin with - to limit the group's use of signs and placards during demonstrations outside Preferred Women's Health Center on Latrobe Drive.

City Code 10-212 states:

Signs within public rights-of-way and on public property. (a) Restricted. It shall be unlawful for any person to attach, place, paint, write, stamp or paste any sign, handbill, Elf advertisement or other matter within 11 feet of the edge of the pavement of any road, roadway, street, or alley, or within any public rights-of-way as defined in section 10-32, or upon any post, pole, tree, tree stake or guard, shrub, fire hydrant, or upon anything else within II feet of the edge of the public rights-of-way or upon any bridge or overpass within the city limits or upon other public property including, but not limited to, traffic medians, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section.

The group claims in the lawsuit that none of the signs confiscated or destroyed were in violation of the code.

"Without the ability to communicate using large signs and placards, Plaintiffs' [Cities4Life] speech and message are effectively suppressed and silenced," the lawsuit states.

Workers at the clinic have spoken out about the demonstrations in the past.

"Going to receive abortion care on a Saturday is like driving through a circus," said Calla Hales, an Administrator at the Preferred Women's Health Center. "We have protests starting at 7 in the morning all the way to about 2 in the afternoon and 9:30 to 11 that activity amps up."

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Hales says the protesting has been "aggressively escalating" for more than a year.

"This issue is a public safety issue," she said. "The idea of large amounts of protesters and signage and large vehicles blocking traffic. It's an ongoing issue."

City officials, including Mayor Jennifer Roberts, have said in the past that proposals to limit the demonstration on Latrobe Drive are about safety, not limiting free speech.

"It is safety. It is the safety of the people who are traveling down the street," Roberts said in early October. "I'm concerned about safety of protesters. I'm concerned of safety of clients. I'm concerned about the safety of people passing through."

Roberts added, "Any business deserves to have safe access to that business if you're on a public street. There's got to be a way that we can figure out how to allow the clinic and other businesses on Latrobe that are impacted by what's going on there just to have access to that place of business."

Council members also said they take people's First Amendment rights "very seriously."

"We take people's first amendment rights very seriously," council member Julie Eiselt said in October. "It isn't our job as city government to get into those issues, but it is our job to protect people - and both sides have to de-escalate. And the only way that's going to happen is we make sure people in those streets are being safe."

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