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Stronger Noise Rules Proposed By Council Committee Threaten Free Speech, Say Anti-Abortion Activists

Alex Olgin / WFAE
Abortion opponents gather in prayer outside of the City Council committee meeting.

Updated: 6 p.m.

A Charlotte city council committee is recommending stronger noise rules to the full council. Those include a limit on amplified noise within 200 feet of schools, houses of worship and medical facilities when they are open.

But anti-abortion activists who regularly protest A Preferred Women’s Health Center, a clinic in east Charlotte off Latrobe Drive, feel these rules constitute a limit on their speech.

The proposal would require the designated places to put up signs explaining they are quiet zones. 

Councilman Justin Harlow said he supports the 200-feet buffer zones.

“This goes so much more beyond … the elephant in the room around the politically charged conversation around abortion or not,” he said. “We want to make sure that people have a reasonable expectation to noise while not limiting any speech.”

Council member Ed Driggs was the one dissenting vote. He said he understands there are noise problems, but said this proposal targets the abortion protestors who often use speakers for music, prayers and messaging outside the clinic.

“I’m concerned that we are, in fact, giving expression to a view on the underlying controversy at Latrobe rather than merely enforcing these rules,” he said. “It’s a tough call because, as I said, I don’t really approve what I’ve heard about in terms of what is going on there. But I cannot support this particular solution.” 

Credit Google Maps
Protesters gather regularly outside of A Preferred Women's Health Clinic off Latrobe Drive in east Charlotte.

Abortion opponents sat behind Driggs in teal shirts. Abortion rights supporters sat across the room. City staff say nothing in the ordinance talks about the content, nor does it prohibit picketing or handing out pamphlets within the buffer zone.

Daniel Parks, an anti-abortion activist, said he thinks the proposal violates his free speech rights. He said he regularly demonstrates outside the clinic with the abortion opponent group, Cities For Life.

“When we are talking about free speech, we are also talking about the right to be heard, right?” he said. “So it does no good for the city to say, well you guys can say what you want but we are going to block it so it can’t be heard.”

The sound from Parks’ group and others can be heard from inside A Preferred Women’s Health Center, said owner Calla Hales. Her office is next to the property the groups own, where they’ve set up a stage with speakers. Hales said it’s disruptive to staff and patients, and was happy to hear the city’s plan.

“I was hoping for a limit on amplified sound, but a buffer is actually more than I had hoped for — especially for 200 feet,” she said. “I am intrigued to know how that’s going to affect private property lines and if it’s going to be from a property line or a front door.”  

The proposed ordinance says it would be the property line.

The changes also attempt to deal with construction noise by allowing sites to be designated as “chronic noise producers.” That would mean they could be forced to come up with ways to reduce noise.

Fines would be $100 for the first offense, $500 for the second, and $1,000 all additional violations. Councilmember Julie Eiselt said CMPD has asked the city for more clarity in the noise ordinance, since it must enforce it. 

Eiselt also said the council need to address the city’s growing pains.

“We are bumping into each other and we’ve got to find a way to honor people’s rights but to also provide quality of life in this city,” she said. “Our noise ordinance is outdated. We spend more police resources on street than anywhere in charlotte and they are saying to us ‘we need help.’”

That claim was not immediately verified by CMPD. The department does station officers on Latrobe Drive on Saturdays.

The buffer rules would extend to parades and bars and restaurants within 200 feet of schools, houses of worship or medical facilities. The full council still needs to vote on the changes before they become final.