Sen. Cruz: Charlotte abortion protest arrests under NC stay-at-home order ‘unconstitutional’
Police on Saturday charged eight Charlotte abortion protesters with violating North Carolina’s COVID-19-related ban on mass gatherings.
The arrests went national late Saturday when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas criticized Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.
“This is an unconstitutional arrest,” Cruz, a runner-up for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2016 election, tweeted. “@BenhamBrothers exercising core First Amendment rights. PEACEFULLY. In a way fully consistent w/ public safety. Because elected Dems are pro-abortion, they are abusing their power—in a one-sided way—to silence pregnancy counselors.”
About 50 protesters gathered outside A Preferred Women’s Health Center on Latrobe Drive, according to police. The center has been the scene of numerous abortion protests over the years.
That size crowd violates the mass gatherings provision in the state’s stay-at-home order, police said, so officers asked everyone to leave.
“After an initial request for compliance, 12 people who were in violation refused to leave” and were cited under state law for violation of emergency prohibitions and restrictions, according to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department news release.
After police issued the citations, eight of the protesters still refused to leave and were arrested.
Police said they will release the names of the eight protesters when the names become available to the CMPD public affairs division.
Video posted to the Facebook page of Love Life, a Charlotte-based group that opposes abortion, shows Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police cars outside the clinic Saturday.
On Thursday four people affiliated with Love Life filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Greensboro mayor and a lieutenant with the Greensboro Police Department after they were arrested March 28 for violating the stay-at-home orders of that city and Guilford County while protesting outside an abortion clinic there.
The four plaintiffs contend their arrests violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and protest at the clinic, which is one of four locations of A Woman’s Choice. The others are in Charlotte, Raleigh and Jacksonville, Fla.
The Love Life members also argue their activities are considered essential under an exemption to the order allowing “outdoor activity.”
A message left for Love Life was not immediately returned Saturday evening. It is not clear how many of the people arrested are affiliated with the organization.
Several days before Saturday’s arrests, Calla Hales, executive director of the clinic, told the Observer in an interview that protesters continued to show up at the Latrobe location despite increasing restrictions on gatherings during the March.
Calling it “a public health nightmare,” Hales said the protesters were not following social distancing during previous protests, and did not wear gloves or masks when they approached patients coming into the clinic to speak with them, distribute literature and to try to convince them not to have an abortion.
“The size of the protest doesn’t matter, it’s that they’re not adhering to social buffers,” she said Tuesday. “That invasion of space and potential exposure is really unsettling.”
Hales didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Saturday’s arrests.
CMPD officials, meanwhile, said the department is continuing to manage the order through voluntary compliance, according to Saturday’s news release. “But the department will enforce violations through citations and/or misdemeanor arrests if voluntary cooperation is not gained,” officials said
Police said the public can report violations of the stay-at-home order by calling 311, through the CLT+ mobile app and online at www.cmpd.org.