Republicans demand protection for NC crisis pregnancy centers, but ignore another threat

Khadejeh Nikouyeh/knikouyeh@charlotteobserver.com
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Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. Ted Budd recently sent a letter to North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, asking Stein to protect crisis pregnancy centers across the state from the “attacks” they have begun to experience since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

The letter urged Stein to “ensure that women across our state can access the services provided by Crisis Pregnancy Centers without fear of violence.” They pointed out that Mountain Area Pregnancy Services, a crisis pregnancy center located in Asheville, was vandalized in June by a militant pro-abortion group. The words “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you” were spray-painted in red on the front of the building alongside an anarchist symbol.

Violence or threats of violence are against the law and never acceptable, regardless of who they come from, and Stein should indeed pursue the civil penalties the FACE Act of 1994 authorizes attorneys general to levy against those who vandalize clinics. But if North Carolina Republicans are upset by the vandalism of pro-life pregnancy centers, they should be equally critical when abortion providers are targeted.

People in North Carolina cannot access services provided by abortion clinics without fear of violence, and they haven’t been able to for a long time. Violence against abortion clinics is well-documented, dating back to the 1970s when abortion was first legalized nationwide. Abortion clinics across the country have been set on fire and bombed, and abortion providers are often the victims of physical assault, death threats and stalking.

That’s largely why the city of Charlotte approved an ordinance in 2019 that creates a buffer zone around abortion clinics. The ordinance prohibits “intentional” or “unreasonably” loud noise, including loudspeakers, bull horns and megaphones, within 150 feet of schools, places of worship and medical facilities. Abortion providers and advocates in Raleigh have been asking for something similar, but so far, city leaders have not acted.

Anti-abortion protesters still picket outside abortion clinics, sometimes with the intent to agitate, intimidate and harass those who seek care. A Preferred Women’s Health Center in Charlotte sees hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of protesters in any given week.

North Carolina law allows speech and picketing outside a health care facility, as it should, so long as it does not obstruct access to the facility or interfere with the delivery of health care services. It is illegal, however, to injure or threaten to injure a person who is obtaining or providing health care services. Federal law provides similar protections.

Still, there is only so much laws like that can do, and even then, they’re only effective to the extent they’re actually enforced. But further regulating this kind of activity — as well as enforcing existing laws — is tricky because it involves the First Amendment.

Though crisis pregnancy centers have seen an increase in vandalism since the Supreme Court’s decision, hostility toward abortion providers also has grown in recent months, with the anti-abortion movement perhaps emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision and the brazen efforts of lawmakers that validate their positions through extreme rhetoric that likens abortion to murder.

On top of that, North Carolina Republicans have consistently denied people access to critical reproductive health care by refusing to expand Medicaid while defunding reproductive health facilities that also provide abortions — all while funneling millions of dollars in the state budget to crisis pregnancy centers, the majority of which do not actually provide licensed medical care.

The GOP is complaining that Democrats aren’t speaking out against the sudden increase in attacks on crisis pregnancy centers, but there’s some obvious hypocrisy to be found there. Where have Republicans been all this time, while abortion clinics were on the receiving end of this violence? Where are they now, as it’s still happening?

Tillis and Budd wrote that “law enforcement cannot play favorites when it comes to pursuing justice.” We agree, but politicians shouldn’t play favorites, either.