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.

THE OPPOSITION

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.

On Oct. 5, clinic escorts counted more than 250 protesters. The protesters congregate at a makeshift stage constructed just a few hundred feet away from the abortion clinic (the brick building behind the trees). (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“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.

The Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center, a local crisis pregnancy center, has been operating since 1985. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“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.”

THE LAWS

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.”

THE ADVOCATES

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.”

THE PATIENTS

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.”

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