Man shoots himself outside Raleigh clinic, and abortion providers demand protections

·3 min read

A man who accidentally shot himself outside of a Raleigh clinic on Saturday was an anti-abortion protester, the clinic said.

Police said a man had accidentally fired a gun and hurt himself, but did not identify the man. The man was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and will be charged with possession of a firearm at a protest, the Raleigh Police Department said in a news release.

But for staff at the clinic, the threat of an armed protester is not something new. Staff at A Woman’s Choice of Raleigh worry what the man’s intentions were in bringing a gun to the protest, and say RPD’s response did little to assuage fears.

The clinic said police did not check other protesters for firearms, nor did they shut down protests for the day for safety concerns.

“Everyone was allowed to remain and it was business as usual,” said Kelsea McLain, a lead coordinator for volunteers with the clinic. “That to me just sends this clear-cut message to these protesters: that this level of violence and escalation is actually OK. You can get away with it.”

Laura Hourigan, a spokeswoman for Raleigh police, did not respond to The News & Observer’s email request Sunday morning for further information on whether the department took any steps to secure the area, and did not return multiple phone messages Saturday and Sunday. Hourigan declined to comment whether the man had a conceal-carry license, or whether there was any indication he had intended to harm clinic staff or patients.

McLain, who communicates with volunteers on site throughout the day, said they reported hearing a “loud pop sound” around 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and turned to see “a man standing with what appeared to be blood on his leg.”

She added that the clinic has lockdown protocols that are followed when a gun is seen on site, but that no staff members realized the man was armed until after the weapon was discharged. Police arrived, she said, and to their surprise allowed protesters to remain. The investigation lasted roughly 30 minutes, McLain said, and then police left the scene.

“RPD did nothing,” she said. “Nothing was done to ensure that there were no guns present on anyone else.”

“This is incredibly disturbing, and it’s scary,” said Amber Gavin, the vice president of advocacy and operation at A Woman’s Choice. “Folks need to take this really seriously. This man showed up ... and he’s carrying a gun that’s not necessary. It’s not safe.”

Gavin said situations like this are “traumatizing” for volunteers.

“They’re worried and they want it to be taken seriously, especially by RPD,” she said.

In 2019, abortion providers saw rising assaults, as well as death and bomb threats, according to the latest available data from the National Abortion Federation. Four years prior, in 2015, three people were killed and nine were injured in a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

“It’s not new to us,” Gavin said. “It’s still very scary, and I keep emphasizing that it needs to be taken seriously.”

In a statement issued Saturday evening, A Woman’s Choice of Raleigh called on Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and city council members to “create a buffer zone to protect abortion patients and providers in Raleigh.” The organization also called for an investigation into RPD’s conduct, which they claim was “outrageously insufficient.”

“We have been asking for RPD’s support for years and they’ve been dismissive of the harassment, intimidation, threats, and acts of violence against our staff, volunteers, and patients,” the clinic said in its statement. “No one should be blocked from getting health care or be intimidated when they go to a clinic. No one should have to experience this kind of intrusion and harassment at their workplace ... This atrocious behavior would not be tolerated outside any other medical facility.”