Experiences with small and large numbers of protesters at abortion clinics in North Carolina

  • Author Footnotes
    1 Present address, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 305 E. 23rd Street, Austin, TX 78712, United States.
    Whitney Arey
    Corresponding author.
    1 Present address, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 305 E. 23rd Street, Austin, TX 78712, United States.
    Department of Anthropology, Brown University, Providence, RI, United States
    Search for articles by this author
  • Author Footnotes
    1 Present address, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 305 E. 23rd Street, Austin, TX 78712, United States.



      To analyze the association between number of antiabortion protesters and patients’ and their companions’ experiences accessing abortion clinics in North Carolina.

      Study design

      In this concurrent mixed-methods study conducted in 2018–2019 at two independent abortion clinics in North Carolina, the author triangulated the methods of participant observation, descriptive statistical analysis of survey data, and thematic content analysis of open-ended responses to compare experiences of respondents who observed larger (>10) versus smaller (1–10) numbers of protesters at their clinic visit. The analytic sample contained experiences of patients and companions who saw protesters during the study period.


      Of 1530 people approached for the survey, 886 (58%) completed the questionnaire. Overall, 655 respondents were included in the analysis. Most respondents (n = 546, 83%) saw 1 to 10 protesters, versus those who saw >10 protesters (n = 109, 17%). Respondents who saw 1 to 10 protesters had their cars stopped at higher rates (53%) than those who saw >10 protesters (40%) but reported being physically approached at similar rates (22% vs. 23%). Respondents who saw >10 protesters indicated that it was more dangerous to drive into the clinic (44% vs. 23%) and more difficult to access the clinic (65% vs. 39%), when compared with people who saw 1 to 10 protesters. Respondents who saw >10 protesters also reported that they thought about leaving more frequently (21% vs. 12%), that the protesters made them feel unsafe (44% vs. 23%), made their visit more stressful (71% vs. 59%), and protesters negatively impacted their clinic experience at higher rates (47% vs. 31%).


      Respondents experienced logistical barriers to clinic access regardless of the number of protesters, though these worsened with larger numbers of protesters. Respondents perceived larger numbers of protesters as more intimidating and felt less safe navigating into the clinic. While all respondents made it to their appointments, these perceptions about larger numbers show how clinic protesting is an intimidating force that interferes with clinic access.


      Showing the ways that the number of protesters relates to logistical and emotional barriers can help clinics in planning mitigation measures to address issues of clinic access for their patients and their companions.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Contraception
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Jones RK
        • Jerman J.
        Abortion incidence and service availability in the United States, 2011.
        Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2014; 46: 3-14
        • Jones RK
        • Jerman J.
        Abortion incidence and service availability in the United States, 2014.
        Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2017; 49: 17-27
      1. Feminist Majority Foundation. 2018 National clinic violence survey. (accessed September 20, 2022).

        • National Abortion Federation
        Violence & disruption statistics.
        2021 (accessed September 20, 2022)
        • Russo JA
        • Schumacher KL
        • Creinin MD.
        Antiabortion violence in the United States.
        Contraception. 2012; 86: 562-566
      2. Blasdell J, Goss K. Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act: National Abortion Federation. 2006. (accessed September 20, 2022).

        • Fuller PB.
        Words, wounds, and relationships: why social ties matter to free speech in high-conflict protests.
        J Commun Monogr. 2019; 21: 168-258
        • Foster DG
        • Kimport K
        • Gould H
        • Roberts SCM
        • Weitz TA.
        Effect of abortion protesters on women's emotional response to abortion.
        Contraception. 2013; 87: 81-87
        • Carroll E
        • Lerma K
        • McBrayer A
        • Evans T
        • Nathan S
        • White K.
        Abortion patient experiences with protestors while accessing care in Mississippi.
        Sex Res Social Policy. 2021; 19: 886-893
        • Cozzarelli C
        • Major B
        • Karrasch A
        • Fuegen K.
        Women's experiences of and reactions to antiabortion picketing.
        Basic Appl Soc Psychol. 2000; 22: 265-275
        • Fiala C
        • Ozogul J
        • Kernreiter J.
        Experiences of women accessing an abortion clinic confronted by religiously motivated demonstrators: a pilot study.
        Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2020; 25: 228-230
        • Foster A
        • Persaud M
        • LaRoche K.
        I didn't doubt my choice, but I felt bad: a qualitative exploration of Canadian abortion patients’ experiences with protesters.
        Contraception. 2020; 102: 308-313
        • Kimport K
        • Cockrill K
        • Weitz TA.
        Analyzing the impacts of abortion clinic structures and processes: a qualitative analysis of women's negative experience of abortion clinics.
        Contraception. 2012; 85: 204-210
        • Arey W.
        Real men love babies: protest speech and masculinity at abortion clinics in the Southern United States.
        NORMA. 2020; : 1-16
        • Lentjes R
        • Alterman AE
        • Arey W.
        The ripping apart of silence”: sonic patriarchy and anti-abortion harassment.
        Resonance. 2020; 1: 422-442
        • Carroll E
        • White K
        Women’s experiences with protestors while accessing abortion care in Louisiana.
        PRC Res Brief. 2019; 4: 1-4
        • Bryant AG
        • Levi EE.
        Abortion misinformation from crisis pregnancy centers in North Carolina.
        Contraception. 2012; 86: 752-756
        • Cohen DS
        • Joffe C.
        Obstacle course the everyday struggle to get an abortion in America.
        California University of California Press, Oakland, CA2020
        • Bose D.
        Overturning Roe could make NC a temporary destination for abortion seekers.
        The Charlotte Observer. 2022; (accessed September 20, 2022)
        • McNamara S.
        Roe v. Wade Overturned, anti-abortion clinic protests to get worse.
        Washingtonian. 2022; (accessed September 20, 2022)