Hundreds protest against late-term abortion doctor in Germantown
Dr. LeRoy Carhart will visit Maryland regularly to provide services at women's clinic
Anti-abortion protesters in Montgomery County have their sights fixed on a Germantown women's clinic.
There, in a nondescript office building among dozens of others in Churchill Executive Park, Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska began work Monday. Carhart provides late-term abortions, those performed after a fetus could survive outside the womb. About nine out of 10 babies born at 28 weeks survive, but many have serious health problems, according to March of Dimes.
Carhart chose Maryland because the state's abortion laws are more permissive than many others, including Nebraska, where his practice has been based since 1985, according to advocates.
"Maryland is a progressive state and a woman's access to contraceptives, emergency contraceptives and abortion is better than many other states in the Deep South or the Midwest," said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. "Maryland should be proud that they are rated as a state that protects women's access to contraceptives and abortion. Such actions protect women's health and save women's' lives."
The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition doesn't see it that way. He led 300 anti-abortion protesters Monday in front of Churchill Executive Park. They prayed for Carhart's removal and vowed continued presence until Carhart stopped practicing there.
"We want every business to know as long as this is the home of LeRoy Carhart, it is also our home," Mahoney said. "As long as LeRoy Carhart does business here, we will take our business elsewhere."
Mahoney said the coalition's legal team was looking at the lease for the clinic, Reproductive Health Services, to see whether Carhart could be forced out legally.
Business owners in the plaza's condo association discussed Carhart's presence during their regular monthly meeting, also held Monday, with some owners wanting to force the clinic out.
William Rinehart, a 15-year member of the association's board of directors, said nothing could be done.
"We consulted with our counsel and counsel advised that it was beyond our jurisdiction [to end a lease]," Rinehart said. "Therefore, we could not take any action."
Rinehart said he could not speak on behalf of the board and its members feelings about the center.
Suzan Sammons, who holds a weekly prayer at the clinic, welcomed the crowd. Sammons, executive director of Little Flowers Foundation, a Gaithersburg nonprofit organization that helps families adopt orphaned children from around the world, has been at the Germantown clinic every Friday for the past four years to pray the rosary with her children, she said.
"The barbaric nature of what LeRoy Carhart does reminds us of the barbaric nature of all abortions," Sammons said.
Carhart will provide regular services at Reproductive Health Services, but will not work there full time, Saporta said. Carhart was in Germantown on Monday; he was not made available for comment.
Reproductive Health Services is a privately-owned women's clinic with operations in Germantown and Hyattsville. Before Carhart's arrival, the clinic offered abortions up to the 19th week of pregnancy.
Staff at the clinic directed all media calls to the National Abortion Federation, the D.C.-based professional association of abortion providers. The clinic is a member of the federation, which sets standards for abortion care and offers security and other support to member clinics.
Protesters on Monday vowed to change the Maryland's Freedom of Choice Act, a law that prohibits the state from interfering in a woman's decision to terminate her pregnancy at early stages or at any time if the termination procedure is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman or if the fetus is affected by genetic defect or serious deformity or abnormality.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national pro-choice advocacy group, gives Maryland an "A" grade for the state's abortion laws. Maryland is ranked fifth nationwide in that group's evaluation of women's reproductive rights.
Saporta said late-term abortions are done only in dire circumstances. She offered examples of women who have to undergo chemotherapy or babies that have developed without brains.
"These women really don't have a choice," she said.
The federation's security director has visited Germantown twice in the past two weeks to train the clinic's staff, Saporta said.
On Monday, a group of volunteers from Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force stood at the corner entrance of the plaza to help women on their way to the clinic navigate the crowd.
"I've watched protesters attempt to prohibit women from entering clinics. To me, that is terribly offensive behavior," said volunteer Paul Valette of Silver Spring. "It is a person's right to get any medical care of their choosing."
Except as otherwise provided in this subtitle, the State may not interfere with the decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy:
(1) Before the fetus is viable; or
(2) At any time during the woman's pregnancy, if:
(i) The termination procedure is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or
(ii) The fetus is affected by genetic defect or serious deformity or abnormality.
Source: Maryland Code