North Carolina has many strong protections for unborn babies and pregnant mothers, including a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortion and that an abortion be performed by a licensed physician. These pro-life laws are under attack, however, as pro-abortion groups seek to strip away nearly every protection that has become law in our state.
Planned Parenthood is suing the leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly over our state’s pro-life laws, and our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom have stepped in to represent our legislators and defend life. ADF senior legal counsel Denise Harle joins host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to unpack this case.
There are five life laws that Planned Parenthood is challenging, says Harle, including facility safety requirements, a 72-hour waiting period, a requirement that women are informed of the details of the procedure before they consent, a prohibition on telemedicine abortions, and a requirement that licensed physicians perform abortions.
“It’s sort of the same tactic we see from Planned Parenthood all the time,” says Harle, “which is that any regulation protecting women’s health and safety is something that gets in the way of their profits. […] There are no women coming forward saying that they don’t want the health and safety protections for themselves; instead it’s the abortion industry, and it’s the fox guarding the hen house.”
Harle and ADF are also dealing with another case here in North Carolina, representing members of Love Life Ministry in Greensboro who were arrested for peacefully praying outside an abortion clinic. Harle argues that her clients were doing nothing wrong, and arresting them was a clear First Amendment violation, stemming from opposition to the pro-life viewpoint.
“We see that there are people in government and in a very wealthy abortion industry that will continually try to impose their viewpoint on the rest of America, and they will even do it by trying to use the force of the law and the courts to try to stamp out pro-life views.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Denise Harle unpack these two critical life and liberty cases in our state.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. North Carolina lawmakers have made strengthening the protections for pregnant mothers and their babies a priority in recent years, much to the chagrin of the abortion industry. As this legislative session is kicking into high gear here in North Carolina and nearly a dozen pro-life bills have been filed into the General Assembly, we’re going to look at two pro-life cases making their way through North Carolina’s court system with the help of our very capable friends over at Alliance Defending Freedom.
We are joined today by Denise Harle, senior legal counsel with ADF, which we know is one of the nation’s preeminent law firms defending religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and marriage and family. Denise is working on both of the cases we’re discussing today.
Denise Harle, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
DENISE HARLE: Thanks Traci, it’s good to be talking with you.
TRACI GRIGGS: Let’s start with a case involving Planned Parenthood and the leaders of the General Assembly. What is Planned Parenthood challenging, and on what grounds?
DENISE HARLE: North Carolina, like most states, has laws protecting the health and safety of women undergoing abortions. These are common sense laws that have been on the books for a long time. They’ve been upheld at the Supreme Court. But Planned Parenthood has brought a lawsuit challenging several of these, including the requirement that abortions be performed by licensed physicians, or that women be told detailed information about the procedure before undergoing the procedure. So, it’s sort of the same tactic we see from Planned Parenthood all the time, which is that any regulation protecting women’s health and safety is something that gets in the way of their profits.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, you and leaders of the legislature recently filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit. Tell us your reasons for that motion and where is it in the process.
DENISE HARLE: Sure. Well, again, the big picture is that every woman deserves to know about her options in an unexpected pregnancy. North Carolina’s laws protect women in that way, giving her information about alternatives to abortion, making sure that the facilities are properly equipped and sanitized. And the General Assembly stands behind those laws because the state is required to protect the health and safety of its citizens. In response to Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit, the state has moved to dismiss those challenges on the grounds, first of all, that all of those laws are completely common sense, constitutional, and similar to laws that the Supreme Court has upheld. And secondly, it’s not the place of Planned Parenthood to come in and pretend to speak for women. This would be like a construction company challenging the OSHA protections for its own workers. There are no women coming forward saying that they don’t want the health and safety protections for themselves; instead it’s the abortion industry, and it’s the fox guarding the hen house.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right. And this is a problem because Planned Parenthood makes so much of its money doing abortions.
DENISE HARLE: That’s right. And what they’re asking for is exemptions from protections for their patients. That is, they want a special exemption for things that we see across the medical industry. Anyone who undergoes medical procedures is given consent, and yet abortionists want to be able to avoid actually telling their patient details about the procedure and then getting their patients thorough consent after understanding the nature of everything that goes on, and the alternatives. And so that’s the motive behind these challenges and we see it across the nation all the time.
TRACI GRIGGS: This particular case is looking at several pro-life laws that have been on the books for several years at this point. Is it reasonable to expect that at some point there might be an acceptance of certain pro-life laws that are properly passed by the legislature? Is that too much to hope for, do you think?
DENISE HARLE: You know, it almost seems like the reverse, because like you mentioned, these have been on the books. So, real quick, it’s five laws. 1. It’s the requirement that licensed physicians perform abortions. 2. A prohibition on telemedicine abortions, which I think we understand given the dangers and risks of abortion—why that shouldn’t be done virtually, especially when an ultrasound is an important part of diagnosing how far along the pregnancy is. 3. The facility safety requirements, like making sure that the hallways and elevators can accommodate gurneys, proper ventilation system, sanitation. 4. A 72-hour period that a woman has to consider the informed consent information. 5. And then the actual informed consent information itself. So, these are all really important, good things for women who are considering abortion, and yet now Planned Parenthood is saying, “Well, all of those things, if you add them up, become too burdensome.” When in fact it’s been decades since the Supreme Court initially upheld laws like this.
And so I think we see an emboldened approach by Planned Parenthood and the industry. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but it actually seems to be a growing attack on basic protections for women and their babies. And at the hearing that we had recently, it was just stunning to hear Planned Parenthood’s attorneys arguing that sanitation requirements that North Carolina imposes upon hospital facilities and nursing homes, for some reason, shouldn’t be required in abortion facilities. What possible reason could there be? To have a healthcare facility performing risky, invasive procedures to not meet basic sanitation requirements, ventilation systems, have hallways that can accommodate a stretcher in the event of an emergency, and emergencies happen! These are the sorts of things they’re challenging, and it can’t be the case that they have women’s best interests at heart. And I think that’s why they haven’t found any women to join them in this lawsuit.
TRACI GRIGGS: Okay, well let’s turn to another North Carolina case that arose during the pandemic when Love Life ministry members were arrested while peacefully praying outside an abortion clinic. Now, this case is interesting because it concerns constitutional issues related to speech, assembly, due process, emergency government orders and enforcement, all kinds of things. Could you give us an overview of what happened in this situation?
DENISE HARLE: Sure. The issue in Greensboro with Love Life ministry is a snapshot of what we have seen now for over a year with certain hostile governments taking their pandemic power too far. And so what happened in Greensboro is not about public health and safety; it was about the government taking advantage of a crisis to silence speech it didn’t agree with. What happened was some Love Life sidewalk counselors and part of their prayer team were out on a Saturday morning, praying outside of an abortion clinic on public property, as they do every Saturday morning. There were fewer than ten individuals; they were spaced out; they were wearing masks; they had hand sanitizer. They were following all of the pandemic requirements under the county ordinance in Guilford County. And, you know, meanwhile down the road, you’ve got the Home Depot with dozens of cars in the parking lot, people going in and out. You have people of course inside the abortion clinic, who knows how far, if they’re spaced out or wearing masks, or what they’re doing. But all around there were people gathering, having picnics, exercising. And yet the sidewalk counselors were arrested for walking while praying. And we sued over that. We see that as a First Amendment violation because it seems to very clearly be targeting behavior—not the actions itself, which are legal under the COVID order—but just because of the viewpoint, and that’s unconstitutional.
TRACI GRIGGS: So ultimately Greensboro dropped all of those charges. So why are we bringing up this lawsuit? Explain why that’s important.
DENISE HARLE: That’s right. Greensboro dropped all of the criminal charges against my clients, but the fact is their First Amendment freedoms to free speech and religious freedom were violated. And that is really a priceless right. They were arrested, hauled to jail, embarrassed, inconvenienced, prevented from engaging in their First Amendment activities, prevented from offering these services that they were just there to help mamas and their babies, and the daddies. And yet they were deprived of that right in violation of the Constitution. And so we have filed a civil lawsuit to have a court order that confirmed that that sort of viewpoint targeting by the government is unconstitutional. And that these individuals were damaged by that. Several of them are pastors, and some of them are foster parents and having an arrest on their record is embarrassing. And it makes it look like they were not equal members of society, when in fact they were out there following all of the guidance; they were very respectful with all the law enforcement officers. And yet still to this day, the only people that the police department arrested during all of the pandemic for violating the stay-at-home order were these few volunteers for a nonprofit who were following all the rules, just because the mayor did not like their pro-life speech.
TRACI GRIGGS: People may not realize either that even though all the charges were dropped, that that kind of thing can still follow an individual around.
DENISE HARLE: Oh sure. And we’re working right now to get those records expunged because, you know, we had one of the gentlemen denied a permit to get a handgun, although otherwise he would have qualified. The fact that he had an arrest made it seem like he was a suspect individual. Like I said, one of the foster fathers had to answer questions about it every time the foster agency was checking in on him and his family. And several of the pastors had members of their congregation who had a lot of questions, rightfully so. When you hear that someone’s arrested and then they also had charges for resisting arrest—which is completely laughable; we have the whole thing on videotape and they were peaceful and cooperative the whole time—that damages their reputation. And the whole thing is born out of a hostility towards the pro-life viewpoints. When the county was happy to let people walk down the sidewalk for any other purpose, but if you’re walking down the sidewalk to pray against the abortion, that led to arrest and being taken to jail. That’s just completely against what the Constitution says that, you know, we’re all entitled to as American citizens.
TRACI GRIGGS: So what connection, if any, do you see between these cases?
DENISE HARLE: We certainly see environmental hostility to pro-life views. We see that there are people in government and in a very wealthy abortion industry that will continually try to impose their viewpoint on the rest of America. And they will even do it by trying to use the force of the law and the courts to try to stamp out pro-life views, and try to impose abortion upon all Americans. And it’s unfortunate that we have to litigate these things, but I’m hopeful and thankful that our Constitution is robust and that we ultimately will prevail on this.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thank you for your good work. We are very grateful for all that you do over there at ADF. We’re just about out of time, but before we go, Denise Harle, where can our listeners go if they want to follow these cases and all of the good work that you guys are doing over there at Alliance Defending Freedom?
DENISE HARLE: We’d be happy for your listeners to check out our website at adflegal.org, that stands for Alliance Defending Freedom. There you can read about all of our cases. There’s a lot going on right now, on the religious liberty front and on the pro-life front. And you can also sign up for our Alliance alert, which is a weekly email that recaps the breaking news and the top cases. And you know, if you’re interested, you can also support our work. We do all of our litigation pro bono. We depend on like-minded citizens across America to link arms with us and help us to fight these battles.
TRACI GRIGGS: And I would really encourage our listeners to take a look at what ADF does, because quite often in mainstream media, even conservative websites, we hear a lot about what is considered to be violations of our freedoms. But if you want to see true violations of our Constitutional rights, go see what’s going on, what ADF is battling, because it’s just amazing. The kinds of things that are happening that often don’t get mentioned in the mainstream media.
So, Denise Harle, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, thank you so much for being with us here on Family Policy Matters.
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