The biggest "pro-life" proponent in Bellevue,
Neb., didn’t join the phalanx of 65 anti-choice protesters on the sidewalk next
to Dr. Leroy Carhart’s clinic over the weekend. He was too busy providing
reproductive health care to dozens of women inside.
"I tell many of the people that I talk to I’ve been in
Nebraska doing abortions for 21 years" said Carhart. "On an average
day, I have the same eight protesters.
"In the same period of time, I’ve seen over 60,000
Nebraska women. They’ve all come with at least one partner, maybe two people
that are supporting them. So that means there’s 180,000 Nebraskans that have
been personally involved with abortion. But [pollsters] skew the questions,
they say, well, 51 percent of the people say they’re pro-life and 49 percent
say they’re pro-choice. But of the 51 percent of people who say they’re
pro-life, I’m there too.
"I think you can be both. And people answer it that
That dichotomy seemed to be largely shared by the community
The heavily publicized street protests fizzled failing to
capture the attention of Bellevue residents who flocked to Offutt Air Force
Base for a weekend military air show just blocks away. The soft-spoken
physician talked candidly about his faith in women to make the best decisions
for their families while they grapple with the complexities of an unintended
pregnancy or one marred by heartbreaking genetic deformity.
"I think every mother we see here is pro-life,"
said Carhart. "She wants the best that she can do for her family. We
believe that woman have been given not the right but the responsibility to take
care of their families. And part of that responsibility, that I think is God
given, is that they have to know what they can handle."
That considerably more enlightened perspective on women’s
rights and motherhood stands in stark contrast to the paleo-conservative views
of the protesters who repeatedly jabbed photocopies of fetal ultrasounds in my
face punctuated with shrieks of "it’s a baby!"
Merely being a woman — albeit a middle-aged one entering
menopause — was reason enough to foist well-rehearsed verbal assaults on me
though I prominently displayed a press badge and was not engaged in clinic
defense activities. And it’s that furious, unfocused zealotry that causes those
in the faith community who claim the mantle of a "common ground"
approach to reducing unintended pregnancies to distance themselves. A Friday
night protest rally planned to be held at St. Cecilia’s Church was abruptly
cancelled following complaints that the church had been duped about the purpose
of the event. Though a church
representative would not confirm or deny its rationale for pulling the permit,
local sources said that the previously undisclosed involvement of a polemic
group, like Operation Rescue, in the event caused concern within the church
To Carhart, the cocoon of religiosity that envelopes
Operation Rescue and others in the well-funded extremist anti-abortion
movement to deflect criticism is akin to the strict fundamentalist
political tactics employed by the Taliban, who are notorious for violently
subjugating women’s rights through a network of like-minded followers.
Though for Carhart and his clinic staff, the very real
danger borne from the inability by absolutists to unify a very human duality of
beliefs about abortion is more evident than ever.
While scores of clinic defenders and dozens of police
officers encircled the building outside, a poster-sized photograph of his late
friend and colleague George Tiller leaned against the wall in Carhart’s cramped
office decorated with framed diplomas, community awards and thank you cards.
Tiller’s clinic was long targeted with a campaign of
physical and legal harassment until one of Operation Rescue’s adherents,
Scott Roeder, assassinated the Wichita, Kan., doctor while attending church
services on May 31.
Carhart stated without hesitation that radicalized
anti-choice groups are nothing more than domestic terrorists with a political
agenda. "They want to achieve their goals … by enticing or encouraging
other people to act on their behalf because of their lies."
"Nothing that they do is legal," said Carhart.
"Nothing that they do is moral. Nothing that they do is religious."