News & Politics

Imagine Being Harassed by Violent Right-Wing Lunatics Every Time You Go to Work -- Meet the Brave Doctors Who Risk Their Lives to Help Women

The war on women has many fronts: one is being fought against doctors who are making a stand for women’s right to choose in the wake of Dr. Tiller's murder.

Imagine having to go everywhere in a bulletproof vest. Having your personal information spread around the Internet, and in circles known to promote violence in their midst. Imagine knowing that your colleague, or the man whose office you now work in, was shot to death in church and that a vital movement cheers his killer on every day. 

Imagine watching legislature after legislature pass bills designed to make your work uncomfortable or impossible.

And imagine going to work anyway, and becoming more and more determined despite all the obstacles. 

That’s the story of many abortion providers in the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller as the new “Summer of Mercy 2.0” -- or more accurately, summer of harassment by right-wing extremists -- heats up. 

The Washington Post recently caught up with doctor LeRoy Carhart, one of the few remaining doctors who openly provides late-term abortions. His new clinic in Maryland is now under seige by the same lunatics who harassed Dr. Tiller for years, the Operation Rescue folks and their extremist ilk. 

LeRoy Carhart travels from his home in Nebraska almost every week to perform abortions at a clinic in Germantown, Md. He rarely stays at the same hotel twice. He rolls dice to pick the route he’ll take to work, because “the biggest part of security is not being predictable,” he said

And later in the piece, a picture of the security at Carhart’s new clinic:

Protesters holding graphic signs are a constant presence outside privately owned Reproductive Health Services clinic, which is tucked in a small office park in Germantown.

Carhart has installed two security cameras outside the clinic....Visitors to his Nebraska clinic have to walk through a metal detector, similar to those in airports; he would like to install one in Germantown.

Previous profiles of Carhart andDr. Warren Hern, the only other doctor after Tiller’s death who performs late abortions with a similar high profile to Carhart, have been described in previous profiles as wearing protective vests and never eating out for more than half an hour, and having multiple bulletproof doors in their clinics. Dr. Hern has seen bricks and bullets fly through his window. Dr. Carhart had his entire farm burned down.

Still, Dr. Carhart, undeterred, is fighting back, attempting to marshal a “summer of choice” to counteract their “summer of mercy.” He believes, as do many activists, that ignoring these people may very well be at his peril.

In RH Reality Check, Kari Ann Rinker, of National Organization for Women (NOW), a pro-choicer from Wichita, Kansas, former home of Dr. Tiller’s clinic and the original “Summer of Mercy,” tells us what scars that summer has left on her town, and on women: 

It’s hard to believe that this town was once home to five abortion clinics, while now there are none. It’s hard to believe that pro-choice Wichita has been fighting to protect this most vital of women’s rights since 1991. The original Summer of Mercy has left a permanent imprint on this community. It gave birth to a new breed of abortion obsessed politicians and terrorists...Their Summer of No Mercy took away our choices and our doctors. It effectually high-jacked our legislative process and our individual respect. 

Activists in Wichita are trying to start a clinic to replace Dr. Tiller’s practice. In the meantime a new doctor, Dr. Mila Means, has announced plans to perform abortions in town, having purchased furniture and supplies from Tiller’s clinic. While less of a stalwart fighter than Dr. Carhart (her views on abortion have vacillated),  Means, who intends to perform only early-term abortions to supplement her private practice, is already experiencing the harassment that comes with the job.

A recent New York Times profile painted a vivid, frightening picture: 

Soon protesters were showing up at her home and business.

“We already had contacts from the Tiller days, and we got it going again,” said Mark Holick, pastor of Spirit One Christian Ministry, who soon began distributing a flier with her name and address that described her as accepting “blood money for violently slaying the innocent.” (Another Wichita doctor who had also been participating in the training quit.) 

In the flood of mail urging Dr. Means to reconsider providing abortions, the letter mentioning a possible car bomb arrived from Angel Dillard, a Christian songwriter who had befriended Scott Roeder after he was imprisoned for killing Dr. Tiller...

On the Internet, opponents publicized Dr. Means’ personal history, from her money problems to her marriage.

This sort of harassment may be routine, but sometimes it escalates into actions even more scary.  

Ms. Magazine reports on actions in Orlando, Florida, last week where Operation Rescue was conducting a “siege” of local abortion clinics:

On Thursday, an FMF organizer stopped known extremist Nicholas Heald of Wichita, Kan., as he attempted to invade a clinic. Heald had a pocket knife on his person, but it is unclear whether he intended to use it for violence. Heald was cited by police but not arrested. Heald is "friends" on Facebook with some of the anti-abortion movement’s most extreme individuals, including Army of God adherent Neal Horsley and Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

 In addition to demonstrating outside clinics, extremists are targeting abortion providers at their private residences or at the homes of their family members.

Luckily, the feminist activists standing guard against these extremists grabbed Heald before anything happened. But that’s why having our own presence at these clinics is critical.

As the war on women makes its way through Congress and legislatures it’s important to note that this war has two fronts, and that one is being fought by activist doctors who are making a stand for women’s health.

If you live in the DC area, check out the Summer of Choice beginning this weekend, a week-long series of events designed to counter the presence of the extremist protesters who are targeting Dr. Carhart in Maryland.

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.