Protesters, religious organizations, laws and more act as obstacles to abortion access in the Triad.
A wave of people wearing bright teal shirts streams into the parking lot of Midori Express on Randleman Road in Greensboro on a recent Saturday morning. Women, children and men of all ages pool at the makeshift stage constructed at the edge of the lot as a guitarist strums his instrument.
“I raise a hallelujah, in the presence of my enemies,” he sings. “I raise a hallelujah, louder than the unbelief. I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody.”
The crowd begins to sway. Some sing along. Others put their hands in the air. Some hold hands. They sing for their message to be heard: across the parking lot, up the walkway, through the walls and the door of the abortion clinic just 200 feet away.
This is what getting an abortion looks like in Greensboro.
Every Saturday and most Fridays, dozens of protesters show up to A Woman’s Choice abortion clinic in Greensboro, the only one in the city. On Oct. 5, the clinic counted 253 protesters. And that number is growing, according to those who work and volunteer for the clinic.
“Just the behavior of the protesters has changed,” says Selina Tate-Wall, manager of A Woman’s Choice. “When I first started, they were silent protesters. They were kind of quiet. But now, their behavior has changed. They’re belligerent; they’re loud. They have speakers. They hold up big signs that are invasive and scary.”
The teal shirts signify volunteers and supporters of Love Life, a religious organization that works to mobilize churches in Greensboro, Raleigh, Charlotte and New York City to oppose abortion. After congregating at Destiny Church just a few buildings down, the protesters make their way into the Midori Express parking lot every Saturday around 9:30 a.m. to pray and sing. But even before Love Life shows up, groups of other protesters who are more aggressive than their teal-clad counterparts, gather at the abortion clinic.
“Sir, please, please do the right thing,” says Wes Durr, a protester equipped with a microphone as he stands next to the parking lot where patients park to get to the clinic. “Honor God in this situation. You have a chance to be a man and to save your beautiful child that’s in there. We urge you, sir… do not let them violate you or your wife.”
Durr makes sure to speak directly to the patients as well as those who accompany them if he can see them. Later, when he sees a black woman walking to the clinic, he turns on his microphone to talk to her.
“My name’s Wes and I’m out here with the Christians and we want to plead and beg you to not let them kill your child,” Durr says.
“Do not let them kill that beautiful black child that is inside of your body ma’am.”
Durr says he’s been coming out to the clinic for about two and a half months and wants to abolish abortion and help people turn to Christ.
“We haven’t been given the right to strip away life,” the 28-year-old says.
He says he usually gets here early and stays until the abortion doctor — or, as he says, the “hired assassin” — comes in.
In the driveway leading up to the clinic, protesters in pink vests attempt to hand plastic cups filled with pamphlets, snacks and tissues to cars that drive in. They’re associated with the Greensboro Pregnancy Center, a faith-based organization that counsels women against having abortions. Also known as a crisis pregnancy center, organizations like the Greensboro Pregnancy Center exist all over the country and on average, outnumber abortion clinics two to one. According to numbers by the Guttmacher Institute and NARAL Pro-Choice, there are a little over 800 abortion clinics in the country and more than 3,500 crisis pregnancy centers. In North Carolina, there are 15 abortion clinics and 115 crisis pregnancy centers. In the Triad, there are five crisis pregnancy centers, including one in Yadkinville, and three abortion clinics.
Despite not offering abortion services, the Greensboro Pregnancy Center is one of the first results that comes up when users search “abortion Greensboro” in Google. Currently housed in an old brick building off of Gate City Boulevard, the Greensboro Pregnancy Center has been operating since 1985.
“Our mission is to empower women to face their unplanned pregnancy without fear,” says Mary Holloman, the communications coordinator at the center.
While the center doesn’t offer abortion services or referrals to clinics who do provide abortion, Holloman says the center offers free pregnancy testing, STD testing and treatment and ultrasounds. Holloman also says the center provides counseling for women thinking about getting abortions by pairing them with a center volunteer who is not required to have medical or psychological training. On a recent visit to the center, I noticed that the rooms were equipped with a pair of cushy chairs and a deep red Bible. Here is where the volunteers tell the women about the options in front of them — adoption, abortion or carrying to term.
“We just offer women the opportunity to be fully informed before they make a decision,” Holloman says.
Holloman also provided Triad City Beat with a copy of a glossy magazine titled “Before You Decide” styled after teen magazines like Seventeen that is given to the patients. The publication (which can be viewed by following the link and scrolling down) includes photos of fetus development and claims that abortion leads to depression, breast cancer and makes it more difficult to have children later in life.
“They have nothing to back up their claims,” Tate-Wall says about the information provided by many crisis pregnancy centers.
Several studies have repeatedly proven that claims such as the ones in the magazine are untrue.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined close to 400,000 women in Denmark debunked claims that link abortion to depression. The study examined whether first-trimester first abortion or first childbirth is associated with an increase in a woman’s use of an antidepressant for the first time.
“The increased risk of depression did not change from the year before to the year after an abortion,” the study said. “And contrary to previous claims that abortion has long-term adverse effects, the risk of depression decreased as more time elapsed after the abortion.”
The American Cancer Society also refutes the notion that abortions cause breast cancer, stating on their website, “Scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.”
The risk to future pregnancies is also exaggerated.
“Women rarely become infertile after an uncomplicated abortion,” states the Harvard Medical website.
And while many crisis pregnancy centers encourage women to carry their pregnancies to term, few state the marked differences in mortality rates between abortion and childbirth.
A 2012 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology concluded that “legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth” and that “the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”
Multiple studies by researcher Priscilla K. Coleman, whose work is extensively cited in the magazine, have been criticized by the American Psychological Association.
“We were unable to reproduce the most basic tabulations of Coleman and colleagues,” states researcher Julia Steinberg in a 2009 Washington Post article. “Moreover, their findings were logically inconsistent with other published research — for example, they found higher rates of depression in the last month than other studies found during respondents’ entire lifetimes. This suggests that the results were substantially inflated.”
These claims exist solely to deter women from getting abortion care, says Tate-Wall.
“These are myths that are not proven,” she says. “It’s a scare tactic.”
In recent years, states across the country have passed increasingly restrictive abortion laws. In North Carolina, a handful of laws have been passed in efforts to restrict abortion access.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a law that required a pregnant woman to undergo counseling and receive an ultrasound before getting an abortion. The law also required a physician to describe the image on the ultrasound to the patient. In 2014, a federal district court judge permanently blocked the forced ultrasound law.
In 2015, another law was passed requiring patients to receive state-directed counseling, and then wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided. In March, a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy was deemed unconstitutional by a federal court. State law also restricts access to abortion for those who receive their health care through the government. This includes state and federal government employees and those covered through Medicaid or Medicare.
In April, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have applied punishments to doctors and nurses who don’t provide care for the newborns that survive failed abortions.
“Laws already protect newborn babies and this bill is an unnecessary interference between doctors and their patients,” the Democratic governor said in his veto message. “This needless legislation would criminalize doctors and other healthcare providers for a practice that simply does not exist.”
Current proposed legislation includes House Bill 28, which would ban abortions after 13 weeks, House bills 22 and 53, which would require doctors to tell women that some medical abortions can be reversed halfway through and House bill 54 which would ban the most common and safest method of second-trimester abortions. Companion bills for House bill 53 and 54 were also filed in the state Senate as Senate bill 52 and Senate bill 51 respectively.
Reps. Debra Conrad, Donny Lambeth and Lee Zachary of Forsyth County and John Faircloth of Guilford County are all sponsors of House bill 54. Conrad, Faircloth and Lambeth are also sponsors of House bill 53. Sen. Joyce Krawiec of Forsyth County sponsored both Senate bill 51 and 52.
“These regulations, these restrictions, they’re not about healthcare,” says Katherine Ferris, the medical director at the Planned Parenthood in Winston-Salem. The clinic is one of the three abortion providers in the Triad.
“They’re about politics,” Ferris says. “Our goal is to care for women. That’s what abortion is; it’s healthcare.”
Ferris, who has been an abortion provider since 2003, says she got into abortion care to help provide comprehensive healthcare.
“Recognizing that as a family physician, my goal is to provide comprehensive care,” she says. “A huge part of women’s life is reproductive life. I felt that it was necessary to not ignore that key part of that healthcare.”
Ferris says that there are often protesters outside her clinic, too. She mentions how protesters try to lure patients into mobile buses or units for free ultrasounds or try to intercept them as they make their way to the clinic.
“When protesters are blocking these patients, what they’re doing is stopping women from talking to their critical healthcare provider,” Ferris says.
At the clinic in Greensboro, a pink bus owned by the Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center sits in the lot next to the clinic with signs offering free ultrasounds. A similarly styled magenta billboard advertising the crisis pregnancy center hovers in the lot next to the abortion clinic. At the same time, abortion clinic volunteers dressed in rainbow vests act as a barrier between protesters and patients.
Forrest Hinton signed up to become a clinic escort at A Woman’s Choice last year and volunteered for about a year.
The escort’s main job is to help guide cars into the parking lots and then walk patients from the cars to the clinic doors.
“You just have to be extremely vigilant,” Hinton says about being a volunteer. “I was willing to call them liars to their faces. I was willing to question them in front of them. I would engage with them to get a patient away from them. Most of the time the patients would say, ‘Thank you for getting me away from them.’”
In March, Hinton says he stopped volunteering after some of the interactions with the protesters got personal.
“They would call me a pedophile,” Hinton says. “A child-hating pedophile. They would say things like, ‘I thought black lives mattered.’”
In one instance, Hinton, who is black, recalled a time when one protester compared abortion to the Holocaust and slavery.
“They are looking for a heated reaction,” he says.
Still, he says that the work was meaningful because it helped women make their own decisions.
“It doesn’t matter what people think about banning abortion,” Hinton says. “As long as there’s a pregnant person that doesn’t want to be pregnant, abortion will exist. It is best to have it in a medical space in a legal manner than have people die from a botched abortion or be forced to have a child they didn’t want.”
Greensboro clinic manager Tate-Wall got an abortion when she was 17 years old and living in upstate New York. She says she was 16 weeks pregnant and didn’t think she could handle another child.
“It wasn’t easy,” she says. “I just remembered being scared. I had two children at the time, and I didn’t want any more children at that time. I was living in a rooming house with my boyfriend. I was just really not in a good place to have another child. I had no money, no family really around to depend on.”
She says a friend drove her to the clinic after she rescheduled her appointment about a dozen times.
“It was a constant fight within my head of how can I make this decision,” she says.
Now, almost 30 years later, she says she knows she made the right choice.
“Ultimately, I feel like I made the right decision for myself,” she says. “I was young and I was not stable with a place to stay. I didn’t have a job. I was on public assistance. I was struggling with the two kids I had.
“I was very much okay with my decision,” she continues. “I was very relieved. I don’t have any regrets to this day.”
Desiree, whose last name was withheld to protect her privacy, says she had an abortion a year ago at A Woman’s Choice. She says the choice was hard, but that she also doesn’t regret her decision. The now 30-year-old single mom of two says she didn’t want to have a third child in her situation.
“I know that if I had another child, I wouldn’t be in the place that I am today,” Desiree says. “It’s hard enough being a single mother of two.”
When Desiree got to the clinic, she says the hardest part about getting the abortion was facing the protesters.
“It triggered me to go into shutdown mode,” she says. “I didn’t allow myself to feel anything.”
She says protesters told her she was “killing her baby” and that “God didn’t want her to do this.” One protester told her that she could die.
“I kind of tried to tune them out and run inside as fast as I could,” Desiree says. “It was a cluster of emotions. It made me angry; it made me sad.”
Desiree, who was just seven weeks along, opted for the abortion pill and says that the process was lonely. She said it wasn’t an easy choice for her, which made facing the criticisms that much harder.
“This girl or woman is already going through one of the hardest decisions of her life and what you are telling her does not help,” Desiree says. “I wish they would be more considerate. I don’t need your extra criticism and judgment. What I need most in this decision is love and compassion.
“If there is a woman or girl out there struggling about this decision, don’t feel bad,” Desiree says. “It’s available for a reason. It’s my body; it’s my choice. I feel great that I had the choice.”