Calla Hales, administrator of Charlotte abortion provider A Preferred Women’s Health Center (APWHC), is uniquely placed to bear witness not only to what may be some of the most critical moments in individual lives, but to the collision of personal and political on a larger scale. The Hofstra University alum, activist and prolific Twitter user shares with qnotes’ readers her path to the position she now holds, her experiences on the job, and, with midterm elections fast approaching, what the public needs to know about abortion and threats to reproductive rights.
How do North Carolina and Georgia compare to other states with regard to the availability of abortion and sexual healthcare?
Both states have strict TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws, particularly North Carolina. Georgia currently requires a 24 hour counseling before care, case reporting to the state and parental notification if a minor seeks abortion care. North Carolina currently requires a 72-hour counseling session before care, case reporting to the state (including copies of patient ultrasounds, in some instances), parental consent for a minor seeking care.
You worked for a number of sports teams before taking a job at APWHC. What led you to make that transition?
I did! I worked mainly for in game operations and community relations — I loved it, because it gave me a chance to give back. A lot of sports teams and individual athletes have pretty great community programs — book drives, military appreciation, hospital support and the list goes on. However, a lot of sports organizations still support some archaic ideals — themes like misogyny and racism are clearly pretty common. I learned a lot about my own ethics, and I realized that working at APWHC gave me more freedom to give back to my community and create lasting change in an organization.
Your clinic is known not only for its own services, but for the perpetual presence of anti-abortion protesters outside. How do those protests affect you? Has your reaction to them changed over the last four years?
Like most abortion clinics, we have protesters that gather outside the clinic. I think the layout of the road (being off a side street) lends itself to higher protest numbers. While we have significantly higher protest numbers, I have to acknowledge we’re luckier than most clinics because we have a private parking lot.
These protests can be brutal. It’s bad enough for patients — hearing a stranger yell at you and call you names at a doctor’s appointment is so unnecessary and intimidating. I think it can be forgotten sometimes how hard it is for staff members and volunteers: these protesters see us day in and day out. They recognize us, know our names, have looked us up. We’re harassed by them day in and day out. It can be truly horrifying at times.
I try my best to document the protesters, but to otherwise ignore or not engage with them. It’s hard — I definitely snap some days — but I still try.
It’s not hard to imagine that aspects of your job could be very emotionally taxing. Is that something you deal with? If so, how do you cope?
The emotional aspect of this job is something that surprised me. I thought I truly understood the weight of the work before I got involved, but there’s not a lot that can prepare you for it. Every patient’s story is different. Every person’s reaction to stress and difficult decisions is different — sometimes it’s sadness, sometimes it’s anger. It’s our job as providers to be there regardless, with support and knowledge to help patients make the decision that’s best for them.
The emotions of this job can get to me. Thankfully, I have a great support group in my friends and family. I actively work at being a better practitioner of self-care, whether it be physical exercise, a relaxing trip or simply a quiet afternoon of binge-watching “Harry Potter” movies with my cat.
What do you consider the greatest threats currently facing abortion and sexual healthcare in the United States?
I believe that the greatest threat facing abortion and sexual health care is misinformation — CPCs (crisis prenancy centers) and faith-based sex education are failing our country. There is a terrifying lack of knowledge about sex, contraception and abortion care in our culture right now.
What do you wish more people knew about abortion?
Abortion is safe and necessary healthcare. Period. Even in a perfect world where everyone had access to free, 100 percent-effective contraception, abortion would still be necessary healthcare.
What would you do if Roe v. Wade were overturned?
Stay open to provide safe and legal abortion care as long as I possibly can.
In an ideal world, would abortion be available in regular doctors’ offices and general healthcare clinics, or do you envision it always taking place in designated facilities like APWHC?
I think that in an ideal world, abortion care could be available in more generalized facilities (at least OBGYNs). I think we’re a long way from that ideal, though — abortion care is not something that is actively covered in most medical school programs.
What advice do you give to new employees?
Communication is key. This job can be heavy at times. It’s imperative that you communicate with yourself, your coworkers and your supervisors to make sure we’re helping patients in the best way possible — even if it means tapping out and having a coworker assist you with a difficult case or acknowledging when additional support is necessary.
Along with its Charlotte location, A Preferred Women’s Health Center has offices in Raleigh, Atlanta and Augusta, Ga. What’s the greatest distance you’ve known a woman to travel to access your clinic’s services?
Over 4,580 miles — from Sierra Leone to Raleigh, N.C.
In your experience, do people within the pro-choice movement have disagreements with one another over precise limitations on abortion or other issues?
In my experience, I have encountered people who identify as “pro-choice” but support the idea limitations on abortion and other reproductive healthcare. I don’t agree with these ideals — I truly believe I have no right to make your personal healthcare decisions — but I can admit that if you’d asked me at 18 how I felt about a 20-week ban, I probably would have told you it didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. It’s important to be open to growth and new ideas in the reproductive justice framework. Constant growth is key.
Do you ever encounter clients who are struggling with moral or religious concerns when deciding whether to have an abortion? If so, what do you say to them?
Abortion care is a highly personal decision, and there is no “one size fits all” answer. My mother used to always say, “abortion isn’t the right choice for everyone, but everyone has the right to make that choice.” I try to live by this motto and let it influence my work accordingly.
Are there other social or political issues you’re passionate about?
I devote a lot of my time to abortion rights, but am truly interested in a lot of topics. I sat in on a SisterSong workshop a few years ago called RJ 101, and it truly opened my eyes to the idea that the human right to bodily autonomy is impacted by more than just the ability to choose motherhood. It’s impacted by economic and social power structures, access to education and healthcare, and the ability to live safely and authentically in your community, regardless of race, sexuality, gender, religion or ethnicity.
Lastly, how can people who are concerned about preserving abortion rights make a difference?
The all-encompassing answer: VOTE.
For those who can help financially: donate to abortion funds (like National Abortion Federation’s Hotline Fund or Carolina Abortion Fund) or organizations that support grassroots abortion activism (like SisterSong, Charlotte For Choice or NARAL ProChoice North Carolina).
For those who can help by donating their time/actions: reach out to local groups that have clinic escort programs, that organize for pro-choice candidates or support GOTV efforts.
Trust me — There are tons of opportunities in Charlotte!