Charlotte Passes Noise Restriction, Improving Abortion Clinic Access and Protecting Patients

The quiet buffer zone noise ordinance passed by the City Council of Charlotte, North Carolina, prohibits the use of loudspeakers, bull-horns and megaphones within 150 feet of medical facilities, schools and places of worship.

The passage—following months of organizing by local reproductive justice activists with help from Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project (NCAP)—marks a prominent victory for champions of reproductive rights in Charlotte and statewide.

The new restriction will be “a reprieve for doctors, staff, and patients who have been subjected to constant harassment and intimidation at the hands of anti-abortion extremists outside of clinics,” according to the Feminist Majority Foundation.

With help from NCAP, the movement for a quiet buffer zone was especially fueled by the Charlotte Reproductive Action Network (CRAN) and the Reproductive Rights Coalition (RRC). 

Brooke Adams, president of RRC and co-founder of CRAN, explained that frustration over a lack of enforcement of previous Charlotte noise restrictions led her and her colleagues to seek systemic change.

“When we would call 911 to report a violation,” Adams told Ms., “frequently the officer who responded would not have a noise meter. Or … protesters would see the officer approach and turn down the sound before the officer could get a reading. On the rare occasion that we could get a citation issued against a protester, the penalty was a $100 fine that never increased, no matter how many times the protester violated the law.”

The “impact of noise” at abortion facilities is not to be understated. Under the new ordinance, officers will no longer be required to formally measure noise in order to take action against the protestors, and penalties will gradually increase with each additional violation.

CRAN and RRC partnered with the National Clinic Access Project (NCAP) of the Feminist Majority Foundation to advocate for protective legislation.

Their initial aim was larger: to pass a buffer zone law which would prevent all protests within a certain radius of Charlotte abortion clinics, according to NCAP Director duVergne Gaines. But as the fight for a total buffer zone restriction began to seem fruitless, CRAN, RRC and NCAP turned to the less restrictive quiet buffer zone proposal that was eventually put into effect. 

“Coincidentally, the [City] Council had at that time received requests from [Charlotte police] and uptown residents to do something about noise. So, the time was right to raise the issue again,” Adams said. “We worked to inform neighboring businesses, members of the public and other advocacy groups about the impact of noise and the possibility of a new ordinance.” 

Although the ordinance does not explicitly emphasize abortion clinics, anti-abortion activists—predominantly from an organization called Love Life Charlotte—have presented as the most outspoken threat to the newly-established legislation, claiming violation of First Amendment rights.

Adams does not underestimate the anti-abortion opposition in Charlotte, who are active and outspoken in their efforts to restrict abortion access. Three members of Love Life Charlotte were even arrested during a Charlotte City Council meeting in which they showcased a banner which proclaimed: “City of Charlotte Silences Women, Amplifies Misogyny.”

“Any time we tried to get law enforcement or the city to help us in confronting abusive protester behavior, the protester groups–primarily Cities4Life and Love Life Charlotte–would bring large numbers of followers to a city council meeting,” Adams said.

Nevertheless, the City Council did not succumb to the opposition’s complaints, clarifying “the recommended noise buffer does not preclude individuals from parading, picketing, or standing on the sidewalk. As such it does not violate First Amendment rights.” 

The victory can be attributed largely to activists of CRAN—comprised of nine organizations geared towards ensuring the right to reproductive health: A Woman’s Choice; Carolina Abortion Fund; Charlotte Women’s March; Family Reproductive Health; NARAL; NOW Charlotte; Planned Parenthood; Reproductive Rights Coalition; and the Feminist Majority Foundation—and RRC, a non-profit that champions women’s bodily autonomy by opposing harassment at clinics.

In mandating quiet buffer zones at abortion clinics, Charlotte reproductive rights activists and lawmakers are taking necessary steps towards an anti-harrassment environment for women seeking safe, necessary healthcare.  The ordinance will go into effect on October of this year.

Adams said that in the near future, activists in Charlotte aim to secure the Whole Woman’s Health Act, which would further ease the process of accessing abortion in North Carolina. And for now, they hope to encourage sufficient officer-training and subsequent enforcement in regards to the quiet buffer zone law.

About

Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a rising high school senior, and an editorial intern at Ms. magazine. She is the managing editor of her school's newspaper, and in addition to the Ms. blog, her work has been published in the Feminist Focus, the UltraViolet student newspaper, GirlTalk Magazine, and more. In her free time she enjoys taking photos and watching late-night talk show segments.