The abortionist and the pro-lifers: Round two

In late September, LeRoy Carhart, the well-known third-trimester abortionist, was dealt a setback, but not stopped.

Carhart had operated as a contract abortionist at Germantown Reproductive Health Services, located just north of Washington, D.C., since December 2010. That clinic — one of only four in the nation at which abortions are performed throughout the entire period of pregnancy — was shut down after being purchased by the pro-life Maryland Coalition for Life. The closing on Sept. 29 was a moment of thanksgiving for the pro-life groups that had been praying and protesting Carhart’s activities for more than six-and-a-half years. The moment, however, was short-lived.

Already a new clinic is open, now in Bethesda, Maryland, just west of the former location, despite strong protests from pro-lifers. On Oct. 17, the day Carhart planned to open the new clinic, more than 100 individuals and representatives from several pro-life organizations gathered nearby to protest his presence. Sidewalk counselors were in the area. The rally opened with an invocation by Pastor Charlie Baile of Shady Grove Presbyterian Church and ended with a prayer from Father Patrick Lewis of the Church of the Little Flower. That evening, a candlelight prayer vigil was held.

Operation Rescue previously had filed protests with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Maryland Board of Physicians. The abortionist, in turn, canceled all appointments for the week. The clinic opened on Oct. 24, but with another abortionist substituting for him.

That Carhart so quickly opened a new clinic was not unexpected. Historically, he has increased his efforts each time he suffers a loss. In 1991, when his barn was burned in opposition to his abortion activities in Bellevue, Nebraska, Carhart declared, “I decided I wasn’t just going to be a provider, I was going to be an activist.” When President George W. Bush outlawed partial-birth abortion in 2003, Carhart brought suit. The Supreme Court eventually upheld the ban.

When an anti-abortion extremist killed late-term abortionist George Tiller in 2009, Carhart announced that he “would carry on his legacy by performing some later-term abortions in his clinic in Bellevue.” Then, when Nebraska lawmakers passed a law banning most abortions after 20 weeks, Carhart opened his second facility in Maryland, where abortions can be performed through all nine months of pregnancy. The 76-year old Carhart and his wife would fly every few days to perform abortions in both locations each week.

In Germantown, Carhart operated from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday. In his new Bethesda location, he initially announced that abortions would be performed six days a week, but then scaled back to his previous schedule, splitting his time between his Nebraska and Bethesda clinics.

Carhart’s record of providing for the safety of his patients has been marked by numerous medical emergencies. During his years in Germantown, at least 10 women were rushed to hospital emergency rooms with life-threatening issues. Carhart does not have admitting privileges at any hospital. Jennifer Morbelli, who was 33-weeks pregnant, developed severe bleeding shortly after her abortion, and was rushed to the emergency room of a nearby hospital where she died. Carhart could not be contacted. Wendy Devine developed complications after her abortion, required extensive emergency surgery in a nearby hospital and nearly died.

Carhart may be adamant in providing abortions, but the pro-life community is equally determined to save the children.

Andrew Glenn is one of the founders of Maryland Coalition for Life and the director for 13 campaigns of 40 Days for Life in Germantown, during which thousands of volunteers, including members of 30 area churches, prayed peacefully in front of the Germantown clinic for almost seven years. In speaking about that effort, he said: “I think a lot of Christians who had been on the sidelines woke the sleeping dragon, just coming to the realization that late-term abortion was happening in our neighborhood. Multiple denominations, both Catholic and non-Catholic, got involved together. We just prayed and asked God what we could do to stand up and help these women who are faced with unexpected pregnancies and difficult situations.” He believes the same response will occur in Bethesda.

Dick Retta, a sidewalk counselor for over two decades, announced that on Oct. 29 there will be a gathering near the clinic of people praying and holding signs illustrating the results of abortion. Demonstrations will continue every Sunday, which is the day Carhart begins third-trimester abortions. Lauren Handy, founder of Mercy Missions D.C., stated that there will be a candlelight vigil every Tuesday evening near the clinic, and prayer groups present every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Pastor David Sayne of Wildwood Baptist Church has promised the involvement of his church. Two coalitions, PrayForBethesda.com and STOP Carhart, were formed to help pregnant women choose life for their children and to exhort Maryland authorities to enforce health and safety policies.

Carhart can continue his lucrative practice of late-term abortions because the United States is only one of seven nations in the world that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which is now being considered by Congress, is enacted, it is doubtful the abortionist would remain in Maryland. The law would protect pre-born children from 20 weeks gestation, the same limitation Nebraska imposed and which caused Carhart to go to Maryland. The bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 3, and President Donald Trump has signaled his strong support for the legislation — promising to sign it if it reaches his desk. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expects the Senate will vote on the measure.

Some may be discouraged by the enormous efforts that have been expended to stop abortion, with seemingly little progress. But we should take hope in the words of our Lord as expressed in the Book of Malachi (3:14-15, 18): The faithful have said “It is vain to serve God, and what do we profit by keeping his command ... evildoers prosper, and even tempt God with impunity.” But the day is coming, the Lord continued, when “you will again see the distinction between the just and the wicked; between the one who serves God, and the one who does not serve him.” God’s mercy and justice will prevail.

Lawrence P. Grayson is a visiting scholar in the School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America.