CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Every day is a new adventure for Calla Hales at East Charlotte’s A Preferred Women’s Health Center in Charlotte. Driving up to her clinic, which offers abortion care, can mean driving past literally hundreds of protesters lining the streets, blocking her clinic’s driveway or, even, stepping out into the street to stop passing cars.
“It’s pretty radical. It’s been going on three years that this has happened,” says Hales, 28, the director of administrative services at this Charlotte center and three more — one in Raleigh and two in Georgia.
By her count, more than 18,500 protesters showed up at her clinic last year alone. Each weekend, the numbers average more than 200 individual protesters in a day.
“I go out there and count them every day,” Hales says. “These sustained high numbers are arguably the highest in the U.S.”
Hales is no stranger to attacks on abortion and reproductive health rights. The past handful of years have certainly exposed her to the increasing tension and tenacity of those who want to restrict abortion access. She’s been threatened, stalked, beaten and raped, all because of her job providing what she says is a critical health care service. Her story and that of her clinics, first established in Raleigh by her parents in 1998, have been profiled locally and nationally.
Her extensive history and involvement in reproductive health advocacy has certainly prepared Hales to face what she says is a “continuing escalation” in the fight by President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to join the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The attack on abortion care is absolutely nothing new,” Hales says. “Kavanaugh is just a continuing escalation. It shouldn’t be out of left-field for anybody.”
Trump announced his nomination of Kavanaugh on July 9, just days after sitting Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on June 27.
Trump’s choice was lauded by Republicans and conservatives, but it has only served to cause alarm for advocates for LGBTQ people and women, Hales included.
And she may have every right and reason to raise the alarm, sensing what she says has been a “growing tension and hostility.” Kavanaugh, she says, is just the latest possible attack.
Kavanaugh, 53, has served for 12 years on the D.C. Court of Appeals, nominated to that role in 2003 by President George W. Bush. A contentious three-year debate surrounded his nomination. Democrats at the time feared he was far too conservative. Kavanaugh’s final approval by the U.S. Senate came in 2006, when only three Democrats voted to appoint him.
Among the chief concerns are Kavanaugh’s potential rulings on reproductive health and same-sex marriage.
Last year, Kavanaugh ruled against an undocumented teenager seeking an abortion. In his ruling, Kavanaugh criticized “abortion on demand.” He’s also been backed by the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Kavanaugh has also been a strong supporter of so-called “religious freedom” measures which seek to exempt anti-LGBTQ discrimination from civil rights protections.
As a lawyer, Kavanaugh has taken decidedly conservative cases, which could raise the suspicious of progressives and LGBTQ advocates. In 1999, he argued in favor of a New Mexico school district’s student-led prayers at football games. In 2000, he represented Florida’s then-Gov. Jeb Bush, as he defended a school voucher program that redirected money from public schools to private religious schools.
“Judge Kavanaugh’s record clearly demonstrates his hostility toward civil rights,” Lambda Legal, a national LGBTQ legal advocacy group, said in a release following his nomination.
Progressives have been split on their views regarding Kavanaugh and an even more conservatively biased Supreme Court if he should be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Some think future rulings will follow a time-proven tactic of the right — a slow chipping away at abortion rights and access, stopping just short of making it illegal.
“I personally think he’s a bigger threat. I’m pretty confident that if Kavanaugh is confirmed, there will be an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Hales says, referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion access nationwide.
“This administration has said that [overturning Roe] is something they aim to do,” she adds. “People are hoping that this administration won’t do something that they’ve said they will, but they’re constantly proving to us they’re willing to do just about anything to get what they want.”
The stakes are highest in states which have passed so-called “trigger laws” or have retained their as-of-now unenforceable pre-Roe statutes. Overturning Roe in those 21 states would mean nearly automatic criminalization of the healthcare procedure.
North Carolina, Hales points out, is not one of those states. Here, pre-Roe state law dating to 1968 — one of the earliest in the nation, says Hales — legalizes abortion up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.
But there’s still much to be concerned about. Hales says attacks on abortion access have only grown. North Carolina has debated continued restrictions and, over time, increased the waiting period for abortion services. Today, patients must first seek counseling then wait 72 hours before an abortion is performed.
And Hales says further attacks or limitations on abortion could mean, quite literally, a life or death decision for many people. Many clinics would be forced to close, including those which offer other healthcare services above and beyond abortion.
“You’d basically create a desert for reproductive healthcare,” Hales says, adding that many clinics offer services to women and transgender people. “Patients would have to drive over 100 miles to seek care at their nearest healthcare facility. …To continue to restrict that, it’s going to sign a death warrant for a lot of people who cannot afford to travel for care.”
Hales is hopeful that community members, residents and voters will speak out. She’s especially hopeful federal lawmakers will take action to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
The issues surrounding poverty, childbirth and reproductive healthcare are complex and won’t be solved overnight, she says. But restricting abortion isn’t the answer either.
“Even if [we lived in] in a perfect society, where birth control was free and everyone used it regularly and correctly, abortion would still be necessary — birth control fails, and pregnancy has a higher mortality rate and risk than abortion does,” Hales says.
To those who “don’t believe in abortion,” Hales has an easy solution: “They never have to have one if they don’t want one, but it’s necessary healthcare for a lot of people.”