NEW YORK, May 30–Dr. Leroy H. Carhart, the soft-spoken and self-effacing Nebraska physician with a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges his state’s anti-abortion law, warned his audience here of pro-choice Republicans that “partial-birth” abortion laws are so vague that they criminalize all abortions. He also detailed how he has lost two clinics and continues to live with a daily barrage of harassment and threats of violence.
“The most difficult obstacle that abortion providers face today is to undo the damage the anti-choice sentiment has created with the partial-truth abortion fiasco,” he said.
“There is not a procedure that I have performed from five weeks forward that would be legal under these laws,” he added.
To hear what was only Carhart’s second speech outside medical circles, the 200 guests–including Rockefellers and Roosevelts–entered the ballroom at the luxurious St. Regis Hotel here through a metal detector and waited patiently while security personnel searched their briefcases and hardbags.
“I am sure you all noticed the security you had to go through to get to dinner tonight,” Carhart said. “That shows you a little bit of what my life has been like.”
Tidy table centerpieces of white and pink roses in silver bowls at the annual fundraiser for the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition offered vivid contrast to the tale of terror he described.
After challenging Nebraska’s so-called ‘partial-birth abortion’ ban through the court system, he has been the target of right wing extremists, he said. One anti-choice zealot set fire to his home and barn, killing 17 horses, a pet dog and cat.
Carhart has been carried from the Great Plains to the High Court by a tidal wave of legal battles. In total, 14 charges have been brought against him–nonsense suits as he calls them because, he says, they are attempts to slow down his practice. Not one was filed by a former patient or their families, he added. All were filed by antis.
His personal legal bills climbed over the $40,000 mark when the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy began providing his defense.
After being evicted from his first clinic, Carhart established another one, this time with electronic locks. “In 1994, shortly after we opened the new clinic, the antis tried one of their old tactics of gluing all the locks,” he said. Undeterred, but frustrated by the high-tech entrances, the antis next filled the locks with liquid metal, Carhart said.
“Watching this again fail completely must have been extremely frustrating,” he said. “For on the following day, they piled bucket upon bucket of hog manure on our steps and sidewalk until in places it was over 16 inches deep.”
The owner of the auto body shop across the street from his present clinic welcomes protesters to his property to harass clinic employees and patients, he added.
“Now, not a single person can enter the clinic without identification, not even the police.”
Carhart is facing eviction again, he explained, because the landlord who forced him out of his first building has joined forces with the owner of a body shop to buy his clinic building and eject him.
A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Carhart has been a surgeon and general practitioner for more than 25 years. He now educates other physicians and reproductive health services providers.
Although his life has been taken over by the struggle to just do his job, he continues to provide reproductive health services to women. He is working to start a non-profit lending institution to make loans to abortion clinics and would use the interest it makes on loans to provide financial assistance to low-income women seeking abortions. He is also hoping to establish a facility to teach abortion procedure to physicians.
Both Dr. Carhart and the Republican group agree that the Republican Party Platform, which is anti-choice without concession and calls for a “human life amendment to the constitution” that would prohibit all abortions, must be removed in order to unify the party.
“There is no middle ground, there is no compromise,” Carhart concluded as desert forks quietly worked away at spiraling apple slices topped with sorbet and caramel sauce. “This has been forced upon us by the anti-choice faction of this party.”