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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Anti-Abortion Groups File Lawsuit Against Charlotte After Stay-At-Home Citations

abortion clinic arrests
A Preferred Women's Health Center executive director Calla Hales tweeted photos of protesters being arrested outside her clinic for violating the stay-at-home order.

Two anti-abortion groups have filed a lawsuit against the city of Charlotte, alleging unlawful harassment, arrest, and citations.

The two groups -- Cities4Life and Love Life Charlotte -- argued they were unfairly targeted by police when officers handed out a dozen citations and made eight arrests outside a women’s clinic in east Charlotte earlier this month.

Charlotte City Attorney Patrick Baker couldn’t be reached for immediate comment Saturday morning.

David Benham is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. He’s a well-known conservative activist, real-estate entrepreneur, and founder of the Cities4Life group. He was also among those arrested outside A Preferred Women’s Health Center on Latrobe Drive on April 4.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to temporarily stop the city from enforcing the stay-at-home order against the two groups, and declare the order in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

But in the Latrobe Drive case, police have said there were more than 50 people protesting – a violation of the stay-at-home order, which prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people. Police also said the protestors were not practicing social distancing by staying at least six feet apart.

Benham says that protesters were spaced at least six feet apart and were equipped with hand sanitizer.

At the start of the stay-at-home order, the conservative group the NC Values Coalition had called on the state to declare abortion a “non-essential service” but Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has declined to do that.

Last week, during a Re-Open NC protest in Raleigh, police Tweeted that protesting is a “non-essential activity.”

The city of Charlotte has long held that the entire city is a “free-speech zone,” a position it took prior the 2012 Democratic National Convention. That means that no one needs a permit to protest or walk on any sidewalk.

The pandemic and stay-at-home order has made that previous statement less clear.

While the county issued a stay-at-home order in late March, it was not a total lockdown. People have still been allowed to go outside and exercise, in county parks and on sidewalks.

The issue raises the question of whether one person – or two or three or 10 – could walk along a county greenway or city sidewalk wearing political shirts or even holding signs in support of a candidate.

Would that be considered a protest? Or would that be considered people be simply being outside while also expressing their political views?

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal