Over the last couple of months, Calla Hales voluntarily put herself through an exceedingly difficult experience. She worked with a journalist for a Cosmopolitan story not only about being the director of four abortion clinics, but also about how she was violently raped by a man after he found out about her job. What occurred after Cosmo published her story, though, offers a chilling example of what happens to pro-choice advocates who go public.
I first met Calla over a decade ago, when we were playing lacrosse together for our high school team in Durham, North Carolina. For a long while, I thought that her career path would take her into sports administration, but instead it took her to her family business — running the abortion clinics that her parents first founded in Raleigh in 1998. Now she works mostly out of their Charlotte clinic, which has become something of a lightning rod for protesters. They show up every day, she says. Sometimes there are more, sometimes fewer, but definitely every single day.
With so much of her personal life on display after sharing her story with the world, things have started to take on an even more serious tinge. "I honestly think some of these newer protesters couldn't tell if I was a staff member or an admin," she says. "It seems like this Cosmo article solidified it for them."
The In-Person Protesters
Now that the protesters have learned that she's part of the clinic's administrative team, Hales says they've started targeting her more directly. She took note of one protester the first Saturday after the article was published, mentioning that he started off by "calling me a murderer several times."
"He's a guy that's been out here for a few months, but never directly interacts with me," Hales says. "Just yells at patients and volunteers. He's usually shaming men for bringing their partners here; he's never called me a murderer or told me my only salvation is repentance." That day, however, he was "heavy on repentance."
A presence outside the clinic Monday was prominent anti-abortion activist Flip Benham, whose rhetoric drove Hales to call the police. "He was talking about [the patients] having limited choices by being here," Hales says. "And then he said, 'the only thing certain by you being here today is that someone is going to die. Someone is going to die today, the question is who.'" That sounded like a veiled death threat to Hales.
Although she has reported each threat she has received from protesters in an attempt to get police protection, she decided not to press charges against her rapist. Hales did report her rape anonymously. Her reasoning, put forth in the Cosmo article, is similar to what other rape victims who do not report their rapes have said.
She says she wanted to avoid retribution against the people close to her, she doubted her ability to handle the trauma of an extended court case, and she felt the embarrassment and guilt that burdens so many survivors of sexual assault.
For at least one anti-abortion activist who read Hales' profile in Cosmo, though, her decision only led to more criticism.
The Response Article
On June 28, soon after the Cosmo article went public, a writer named Jay Hobbs published a story on Pregnancy Help News, a website of which he is the editor-in-chief. "In Haste to Condemn Pro-Lifers, Cosmopolitan Allows a Rapist to Walk Free," the headline read. Bustle reached out to Hobbs for comment, and Hobbs responded via email with the following:
Pro-life individuals oppose abortion and rape for the very same reason: both are unspeakable crimes against the inherent dignity and worth of a victim. Any person who commits rape in the name of the “pro-life” movement is hijacking the term and acting in patent opposition to pro-life beliefs. We stand by our take on the Cosmopolitan article. The story Ms. Hales tells via Cosmopolitan is a tragic one, and a person subjected to what she describes deserves compassionate, confidential and professional help. Meanwhile, if a rapist is out in her community and does not face consequences, he may attack other women in the future. Our hope is that Ms. Hales has those who will stand with her as she reports this horrific crime to the authorities. Ms. Hales deserves empowerment and justice in the midst of this tragic time in her life.
Later, the article appeared on LifeNews.com on June 29, under the headline "Cosmo Allows Rapist to Walk Free So It Can Trash Pro-Life People." The reach got wider on Monday, when The Federalist published a slightly edited version of the same article, using the headline "Cosmopolitan Blames A Violent Rape On The Pro-Life Movement." Fox News' opinion website, Fox Nation, published the article as well.
The article questions Hales and Cosmpolitan's trustworthiness regarding why neither named the alleged attacker. The article claimed the Cosmo author, Rebecca Grant, was "leveraging" and "using" rape to allege "that not only her perpetrator motivated by pro-life convictions, but that the attack itself was indicative of swelling anti-abortion extremism."
The crux of Hobbs' argument is that while rape is always wrong, Hales' decision not to press charges — and Cosmo's decision to respect Hales' choice in the matter — indicate that Hales and Cosmo are purposefully letting a rapist go free in order to attack the anti-choice movement:
Rather than showing a proper zeal to bring this man to justice and — at the very least — protect his future victims from the crimes he’s sure to commit, Cosmopolitan shows it’s far more committed to “winning” the abortion debate than actually helping women and advancing their role in the world.
According to statistics about rape prosecutions from RAINN, only seven out of 1,000 rapes end in a felony conviction, and only six out of 1,000 rapists end up seeing jail time. Even if Hales had decided to press charges at the time, or if Cosmo had published the name of her rapist, it's likely that he would still be walking free anyway.
The Online Harassment
Hales says she's been experiencing a wave of hate on her Twitter feed, and she feels it's almost certainly in response to the articles. One woman tweeted at Hales, calling her "one odious little false-rape accuser." Other Twitter users questioned her appearance, and talked about whether she deserved it for being a "baby murderer."
On Cosmopolitan's Facebook post sharing the story, some people commended Hales for sharing her story, while others claimed she made it up. "I have a hard time believing this story. Someone who feels strongly that abortion is murder, and is wrong, is not going to rape a woman, and potentially make a baby that he knows would be aborted. It doesn't make sense," one person wrote. When others questioned why Hales would lie about it, she replied, "She would lie just to taint the people who are a part of the pro life movement. Because she hates them. Because they remind her that she has innocent blood on her hands."
"Calla Hales and other rape victims deserve far better than this," wrote Hobbs. And yet the people who call themselves "pro-life" — both online and in person — have yet to show her any support.
Although she doesn't consider it brave, Hales puts herself in danger every day that she continues to work on behalf of the patients that come to her wanting abortion services. She says she isn't planning on stepping down anytime soon. Instead, she says, she's been pushing forward with her activism on behalf of clinics.