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Over 100 Turn Out for Protest of SB 20, Hope Pregnancy Center

Over 100 people gather at a rally in front of Hope Center Sunday to protest SB 20 and practices of the center. Photo by Taylor Pitt.

By Zack Hill

Chants of “Our bodies, our choice, stand up now and use your voice” echoed off the walls of the Hope Center on Howard Street Sunday as over 100 people gathered at a rally organized by the Blue Ridge Collaborative to protest practices of the Hope Pregnancy Center and N.C. Senate Bill 20 which would criminalize abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy with some exceptions for rape, incest and life-threatening pregnancies.

Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill on Saturday but a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly is expected to override the veto this week.

Rally organizers said they gathered in front of Hope Center because it provides false and misleading advice to people seeking information about abortion in order to dissuade them from actually getting an abortion.

Hope Center is classified as a “crisis pregnancy center.” According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, crisis pregnancy centers are “run by people who operate unethically and with the intention to dissuade, deter, or prevent them [people] from seeking certain reproductive health care options.”

“CPC is a term used to refer to certain facilities that represent themselves as legitimate reproductive health care clinics” but “actually aim to dissuade people from accessing certain types of reproductive health care, including abortion care and even contraceptive options. Staff members at these unregulated and often non-medical facilities have no legal obligation to provide pregnant people with accurate information and are not subject to HIPAA or required by law to maintain client confidentiality,” the ACOG said.

Many attendees held signs voicing their opposition to SB 20. Photo by Taylor Pitt.

Organizers say the term “crisis pregnancy center” is misleading, as the Hope Center refuses to provide real and timely information on abortion options. They said many people they’ve spoken to who have been to the center tell them it only purports to give them all the options with their pregnancy.

“Many reports we hear from people who’ve gone there is that they don’t consider abortion to be an option,” said Hannah Finkelstein, of Appalachian Abortion Support Collective, a group at the rally handing out stickers and brochures. “They don’t refer people who want abortions to clinics who can perform them, won’t talk to you like it [abortion] is an option and won’t talk to you about anything at all until you take a pregnancy test.”

“It all comes from ulterior motives,” Finkestein said. “It’s non-scientific, non-medical, but getting money from the state.”

Hope Center offers scholarships to women who decide to keep the child instead of having an abortion. To critics, that practice creates a scenario that financially incentivizes a woman to keep a pregnancy, and is akin to bribery.

The center is funded by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization and a private foundation. The Hope Center receives taxpayer money from the N.C. budget, according to event organizers.

Prospective state house member Ben Massey was in attendance. He ran for election to the N.C. General Assembly but lost to incumbent Republican Ray Pickett in 2022. He plans on running for election again in 2024 and said that he would remain pro-choice, unlike recent Democrat-to-Republican Tricia Cotham, who switched parties this year to give Republicans a supermajority in the state.

Cotham spoke of her own abortion in a 2015 speech on the floor of the N.C. General Assembly saying, ‘My womb and uterus is not up for you political grab,” in an emotional speech. “This decision was up to me, my husband, my doctor and my God. It was not up to any of you in this chamber.”

Cotham voted in favor of SB 20 and is likely to vote in line with the Republican supermajority to override Cooper’s veto of the bill.

“It is baffling that these organizations like the Hope Center are allowed to exist,” event-attendee Laken Hamby said. “They lure pregnant people in under the guise of providing free, unbiased educational resources regarding abortion only to try to convince those vulnerable people to carry their pregnancy to term.”

Laken Hamby holds a sign she made for the rally. Photo by Taylor Pitt.

“They provide intentional misinformation to people seeking their services in order to further their own agenda. Crisis pregnancy centers often have strong ties to Christian religious groups, and they somehow still receive millions of dollars from taxpayers. It’s egregious.”

Many at the rally spoke of separation of church and state, which is in the United States Bill of Rights, as central to the issue of many crisis pregnancy centers, like Hope, receiving taxpayer money.

Speaking about SB 20, Cathy Kramer, another participant at the rally, said “It is absolute absurdity that the right to my own body can be stripped from me by the very people who are supposed to protect me. I’m attending the Hope Center protest to advocate for those who may be affected by SB 20 and to show my support for those who have been negatively impacted by mistreatment from crisis pregnancy centers.”