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Greenville County Council punts resolution to revoke abortion clinic's business license

Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio

Update, Dec 5: The Greenville County Council sent a resolution that would consider revoking the Greenville Women’s Clinic’s business license — on the grounds that a high volume of police calls to deal with demonstrators at the site makes the clinic a nuisance — to a committee for further study Tuesday.

Despite dozens of supporters for and detractors of the proposal, the decision was made with little fanfare to close the council meeting.

Updated Dec. 5, 11:06 a.m., to reflect comments by law professor Derek Black.

The Greenville County Council is set to consider a resolution to revoke the business license of the Greenville Women’s Clinic, the only place in the county that provides abortion services.

County Councilman Stan Tzouvelekas asked for the resolution to appear on Tuesday’s council meeting agenda. The resolution states that because sheriff’s deputies answer “a high number of response calls” at the clinic, it is a nuisance that needs to be closed.

A TikTok video made by abortion access advocates calls the move “the latest sneaky attempt at shutting down the clinic.”

Clinic supporter say that most of the calls the County Sheriff’s Office gets about the clinic are coming from its opponents, thereby making the numbers look worse than they actually are.

Clinic supporter and abortion rights activist Cait Morrigan says that for every call clinic supporters have made to the sheriff’s office, clinic opponents have made at least five.

No opponents of the clinic could be reached for comment.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office could not provide data on which business locations are subject to the most police calls in the county, but officers have asked for more than 60 arrest warrants connected to the clinic this year – and have been able to obtain few of those warrants.

Whether the resolution will amount to legal action is uncertain, as revoking the clinic’s license is likely to run up against jurisdictional or other legal issues.

Derek Black, a professor of law at the University of South Carolina, says a main snag in the any effort to revoke the clinic's license based on police calls or nuisance concerns is that it is not the business itself that is causing any nuisance issues, but rather the demonstrators.

"If the problem is the protesters," Black says, "then they need to deal with the protesters, not the business."

The County Council and Sheriff's Office have been trying to do that for months. The council had crafted an ordinance that would have addressed demonstrations at the clinic, but that effort hit a wall of backlash among even the council itself — some members of which worried that the ordinance could infringe upon free speech protections.

Black says there is ample legal precedent for setting protest rules going all the way to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It's the busiest protest space in the country, "but it's regulated," he says.

Rules and regulations for demonstrations aside, Black says any efforts to revoke the Women's Clinic's license could run afoul of property rights.

"No matter what, the business owner has a vested property right" that the county "couldn't just take away" without a lot of legal process, he says.

This is an ongoing story.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.