Activists protest doctor performing late-term abortions at Md. clinic

Activists gathered near a Germantown clinic on Monday to protest a doctor who performs late-term abortions.
By Lena H. Sun and Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 6, 2010; 10:27 PM

Nebraska doctor LeRoy Carhart began working Monday at a Germantown abortion clinic, prompting protests and a prayer vigil - and shifting the national battle over abortion from the Midwest to Maryland by focusing attention on a controversial procedure that stirs up strong feelings among many Americans.

One of the few doctors in the country who openly acknowledges performing abortions late in pregnancy, Carhart said last month that he chose the Washington area because Nebraska has implemented a law making it illegal to perform abortions beyond the 20th week of pregnancy. Only a handful of doctors say publicly that they perform late abortions, and Carhart has been the target of abortion protests.

About 300 protesters gathered on a grassy knoll near the entrance to the office park where the clinic is located. As wind gusts blew, organizers urged the crowd to boycott nearby businesses to put pressure on Carhart to leave Germantown Reproductive Health Services, which already performs abortions earlier in a pregnancy.

Noting the yellow police tape that had blocked off much of the privately owned office park, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said, "I'm thrilled with all this police tape. Let's say you're an orthodontist and your little sixth-grader comes with her mom and sees all this. That's exactly what we want.

"We don't want Maryland to become the late-term abortion capital of America," he said.

"We in Germantown don't have any intention of becoming the late-term abortion capital of Maryland," said Peter Sprigg, a policy analyst with the Family Research Council, who lives nearby.

Carhart did not respond to telephone calls for comment, but abortion rights activists said he was working at the clinic.

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."

Carhart had said he chose the D.C. area based on a combination of factors, including favorable laws.

In Maryland and Virginia, abortions are not allowed beyond when the fetus becomes viable, except in situations where the woman's "life and health" are threatened. Maryland also allows exceptions for fetal abnormalities. In both states, the doctor performing the abortion makes those determinations. In Virginia, a second doctor must approve the procedure. The District has the fewest restrictions, with no specific rules governing late-term abortions.

More than 88 percent of the 1.2 million abortions performed each year in the United States are done in the first trimester of pregnancy, and most doctors will not perform them beyond 22 or 24 weeks because of moral qualms, social stigma, legal concerns, inadequate training or lack of experience. Barely 1 percent of procedures - perhaps about 15,000 each year - are done after 21 weeks. At 37 weeks, a baby is generally considered full-term.

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