Dr. Leroy Carhart opened the doors of his new Maryland clinic not just to the standard protesters that place themselves at any reproductive health center they can find, but an organized, concerted effort to force the physician out of the area.
Calling their movement “Drive Carhart Out of Maryland,” the group, which is comprised of various anti-choice organizations like the Christian Defense Coalition, Operation Rescue, and Family Research Council, held a prayer vigil and press conference near the building that houses Carhart’s new office. The vigil, which lasted approximately 30 minutes and involved five different male speakers asking God to forgive those who abort children as well as “change Dr. Carhart’s heart” by giving him a “Paul on the Road to Damascus” type conversion, was attended by a small group of predominately white, predominately male anti-abortion supporters.
Attending the days events were members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a pro-choice religious action group. Two RCRC activists, who were holding up large purple signs that read “Pro-Faith, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice” during the “Kick Carhart” press conference, were quickly blocked from the camera during the press conference, and one, a pro-choice pastor, was denied the chance to speak during the preliminary vigil when an open call was issued for pastors to provide prayers.
According to Katey Zeh, RCRC board member, the pro-choice religious group was invited to the clinic at the invitation of Dr. Carhart, who is also a member of the board. Requesting specifically that pro-choice groups stay away from the opening day fray in order to not inflate what was expected to be a potentially contentious media circus, only a small number of members came to give silent support to the clinic.
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“We weren’t there as a counter protest, but to show solidarity and support,” said Zeh. “We wanted to be show that those who were protesting didn’t represent all religious people.”
Zeh mentioned that RCRC will continue to support the clinic and Carhart to whatever extent they request, in whatever means the clinic finds helpful and meaningful. She also praised the police officers who were on scene and kept the site safe and secure, as well as kept protesters at a respectful enough distance that there was almost no evidence inside of anything that was occurring on the streets.
Prayer and protests weren’t the only approach anti-choice activists took in trying to drive Carhart from his new office. In the hopes of using bureaucracy to force Carhart from the clinic, anti-abortion groups offered legal assistance to the condo association that houses the office as they met for their monthly meeting on Monday.
However, the attempt to get the condo board to intercede was a bust, according to the Washington Post.
Although several businesses said they were dismayed by Carhart’s presence and antiabortion groups’ vows to continue regular, peaceful demonstrations, the office condominium association said there was nothing it could do to block him.
The group held its regular meeting Monday and was informed by its legal counsel that “we have no jurisdiction over that business,” said William Rinehart, one of the board members. “They are in compliance with the law.”
Reporter Amanda Hess, who atttended the day’s protest, got to talk extensively with the some of the protesters on the street:
Hundreds of men, women, and children gathered at the spot this morning to pray for God to interfere with Carhart’s practice, and to catch up with old friends. For area anti-abortion activists, the event provided a reunion of sorts—an excuse to pull out the fetus-sized manger, tape their mouths with “LIFE,” and take the homeschoolers on a field trip.
“It’s great,” anti-abortion activist Olga Fairfax, 70, tells me from her perch on the clinic curb, where her sign urged passing cars to “Honk If You’re Pro-Life.” “I met one girl that I haven’t seen for 35 years,” she says. “I thought she had died.”
Many may have felt like the event was a reunion, but at least one protester was not there for fun, according to Hess:
Then there was Darnestown, Md. resident William Cooper. Cooper, a landscaper and evangelist, described himself as “angry,” repeatedly referenced the murder of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, and scoffed at the police presence protecting Dr. Carhart and his patients from similar actions. And there’s more! A notebook dump on yesterday’s most vociferous protester:
5. On history: “This is just like the Pharaoh killing children and throwing them to the alligators. There’s no difference here.”
4. On proximity: “This is too close to home. It’s knocking on my door. Wherever this came from, it needs to go back there. I hope the wind it came in on pushes it back down to Hell.”
Carhart’s expansion to the Maryland clinic is the first of three moves to expand his ability to provide late-term abortion assistance now that Nebraska has made it a crime to abort after a fetus is 20 weeks gestation. The doctor plans to also be available in Iowa and Indiana at some point in 2011.