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Benham Brother Says He Was “Unlawfully Arrested” Outside Abortion Center for Breaking Stay-at-Home Order

Christian business owner and activist David Benham was arrested outside an abortion clinic in Charlotte, N.C., over the weekend for allegedly failing to comply with North Carolina’s COVID-19 “stay at home” and social distancing orders. He claims, however, he was “unlawfully arrested,” was in full compliance with the statutes, and accused the police of “selectively enforcing” the law.

Benham was one of eight pro-life volunteers arrested Saturday, according to The Charlotte Observer. “The rumors are true—I was arrested this morning,” he said on his Facebook page. “My boys and I went to support the awesome sidewalk counselors who work with our non-profit, Cities for Life.” David and his twin brother Jason founded Cities 4 Life in Charlotte in 2010. Cities 4 Life offers sidewalk counseling to abortion-minded women outside abortion clinics as well as free ultrasounds. 

In a video posted on the Benham Brothers’ Facebook page, David Benham debates with a hesitant police officer about his right to be on the sidewalk across from the largest abortion clinic in the Southeast. “We are an essential federally recognized nonprofit charity that helps at-risk mothers and babies,” he told the officer. “We are within our rights to be here.”

When Benham refused to leave, an officer placed him under arrest. “You know we wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t acting under the advice of our attorneys,” the officer quipped. “If we did not feel we had firm legal standing, we would not be doing this.”

Daniel Parks, executive director of Cities 4 Life, says they too were operating under the advice of an attorney. “Our attorneys have gone through the county and state stay-at-home orders and drafted a letter for us to assure us that our organization fits within the provisions for the order as an essential organization because we offer social services,” he told me. 

The state-issued stay-at-home order prohibits mass gatherings of more than 10 people. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) in a news release says they “observed approximately 50 protesters congregating” outside the clinic. Benham says there were fewer than 10, and they were all standing at least 6 feet apart. The video he posted shows people on the sidewalk standing as such, although it’s unclear how many. 

Parks told me only five people from Cities 4 Life were outside the clinic on Saturday at the time of the arrest, but they weren’t the only ones. “There were other individuals there to pray not with any particular organization, but far less than 50,” he said. Some of them were from a partner group Love Life, a pro-life prayer ministry, according to The Charlotte Observer. 

The CMPD said in a statement that 13 “protestors” refused to leave when asked and were issued citations. Eight of those people continued to refuse and were placed under arrest.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) took to Twitter in support of Benham. “If NC deems abortion ‘essential,’ then pregnancy care services are as well,” he said.

In another tweet, Cruz said, “Social distancing must not be used as an excuse to silence pro-life views. Arresting this advocate who was following social distancing requirements because of his pro-life speech was unconstitutional and a serious abuse of power.”

Meanwhile, that same Saturday, one Charlotte-based reporter posted photos of popular local parks packed with people walking, congregating on benches, playing volleyball games, and tanning on the green lawn, via Charlotte Stories. No arrests were made in those areas. 

Benham was booked and released later that day. On March 28, four Love Life volunteers were also arrested in Greensboro, N.C. for allegedly violating the state’s stay-at-home order. They filed a lawsuit April 2, saying the arrests were in violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The Benham brothers are most popular for having their TV show ousted by HGTV because of their belief in a biblical view of marriage and family.  

The same morning Benham and the other seven volunteers were arrested, two women went into the Cities 4 Life ultrasound van and came out deciding to keep their babies, according to Cities 4 Life. “Some things are worth fighting for,” Benham said.

Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.