ABOVE: Conservative radio host and commentator Todd Starnes appeared on the Tuesday afternoon edition of CBN's Newswatch to discuss why the states are allowing abortion clinics to operate as "essential services" during the COVID-19 pandemic. Newswatch is seen weekdays on the CBN News Channel. For a programming schedule, click here.
What rights do sidewalk counselors have outside of abortion clinics in the midst of COVID-19? It's an emerging issue that's coming to the forefront in several cities.
Entrepreneur and pro-life activist David Benham says his arrest last weekend outside a Charlotte, NC abortion facility was viewpoint discrimination.
"It's suppression of religious expression," he told CBN News, "We can't lose our heads in the midst of all this and give up our rights.
Police officials in Charlotte say Benham was violating the County's Stay at Home Order, and that 50 protestors were congregating outside the facility known as A Preferred Women's Health Center.
Charlotte police say that officers observed the large group as they monitored the clinic on Saturday morning as part of their normal routine.
In a statement released by a public information officer, the department maintained "under the appropriate circumstances, a government may place reasonable restrictions on constitutional rights. Under these circumstances, while the COVID-19 state of emergency and public health declarations are in place to reduce the further spread of the virus, it is reasonable to limit a person's freedom or movement to a gathering of no more than ten people."
But Benham told CBN News that when he and several family members pulled up to the facility on Saturday morning after receiving a call from one of the sidewalk counselors at his pro-life non-profit, Cities 4 Life, there was only a small gathering. He observed a group of police officers and 3 sidewalk counselors outside the clinic along with two people operating an RV unit with a sonogram machine.
"They were clearly targeting, because of where we were standing in front of an abortion clinic," said Benham. "It had nothing to do with me breaking a COVID law."
Benham says the counselors were practicing social distancing.
In a video clip, both police and Benham argue that they're acting in accordance with the state order.
Cities 4 Life organizes sidewalk counselors who pray outside the abortion facility and offer women mentoring help and other free services.
The Charlotte Observer reports that it interviewed Calla Hales, the executive director of the clinic, several days before Benham's arrest and that she described the counselors as a "public health nightmare," saying they did not follow social distancing or wear gloves or masks as they approached women coming into the clinic.
"The size of the protest doesn't matter, it's that they're not adhering to social buffers," she told the newspaper. "That invasion of space and potential exposure is really unsettling."
Benham's arrest follows a similar arrest in San Francisco, CA, where the San Francisco Examiner reports that police arrested an 86-year-old abortion protestor outside an abortion facility.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is calling attention to Benham's arrest, saying that it was unconstitutional. He tweeted "social distancing must not be used as an excuse to silence pro-life views."
In another North Carolina city, pro-life advocates have filed a federal lawsuit against the Greensboro government to allow pro-life advocates to be allowed to continue to pray in front of a local abortion clinic. The Thomas More Society filed the suit, saying that Greensboro police threatened several advocates with arrest as they prayed.
Police say the activity was considered "non-essential."
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