Regardless of how you feel about abortion, the way Todd Stave flipped the script on his bullies is pretty dang clever.
Stave is the landlord of a clinic in Germantown that provides abortions. Reproductive Health Services became the focus of antiabortion protesters when it was leased to LeRoy Carhart, one of the few doctors in the nation who acknowledges performing late-term abortions.
There are always protesters outside the office park where the clinic is located, quietly praying or holding vigil, with signs, rosaries, statues of Mary and posters of mangled fetuses.
“Totally appropriate. It’s their right,” Stave told me this week. “They are protected by the First Amendment. And outside the clinic is probably the most appropriate place for them to express their views.”
The abortion conflict has become a way of life for Stave. He’s not just a landlord. The clinic was operated by his father, who was a doctor. Then his sister managed it.
“I’ve been a member of this fight since Roe v. Wade, since I was 5 years old,” he said. The office was firebombed when he was a kid, and protesters gathered outside the family home as he was growing up. So he’s no stranger to the harassment and bullying of doctors and their families.
It has become routine for protesters to distribute fliers and create Web sites that supply personal information about doctors and encourage others to badger them. Kansas doctor George Tiller was killed in 2009, and the farm of his protege, Carhart, was burned to the ground in 1991.
The tactical decision to focus on a clinic’s landlord was a clever move, although Stave could handle it. He’s pretty tough after all the years in this fight.
But his tormentors crossed the line last fall when a big group showed up at his daughter’s middle school on the first day of classes and again at back-to-school night. They had signs displaying his name and contact information as well as those gory images of the fetuses.
“What parent wants to have that conversation with an 11-year-old on the first day of school?” he fumed.
Soon after that, the harassing calls started coming to his home. By the dozens, at all hours. Friends asked him how they could help. He began to take down the names and phone numbers of people who made unwanted calls. And he gave the information to his friends and asked them to call these folks back.
“In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers,” he said. “They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women’s rights.”
This started with a dozen or so friends, and then it grew. Soon, more than a thousand volunteers were dialing.
If they could find the information, Stave’s supporters would ask during the callbacks how the children in the family were doing and mention their names and the names of their schools. “And then,” Stave said, “we’d tell them that we bless their home on such and such street,” giving the address.
The family of a protester who called Stave’s home could get up to 5,000 calls in return.
“We gave them back what they gave us,” he said. Do unto others, and so forth.
The supporters came so fast and in such big numbers, Stave founded a group, Voice of Choice . And now there are about 3,000 volunteers ready to make calm, reasoned calls to the homes of people who bombard doctors, landlords and their families with protests at homes or schools across the country.
Stave clearly enjoys turning the tables after decades of not fighting back.
“What? They don’t want unsolicited calls to their homes?” he asked.
Still, there are calls Voice for Choice won’t make.
“Someone might call and say: ‘They’re protesting in front of my clinic. They’re praying, chanting, with their signs.’ And I say: ‘Are they harassing you? Harassing the patients?’ ” Stave said.
“And if they say no, then I say: ‘I can’t help you. There is no more appropriate place for them to do this than here. They are protected by the First Amendment.’ ”
He is being called a hero. He even received an award from NARAL at a big gala in California last week. And that’s when the trouble began again.
While he was in California, his neighborhood was canvassed with fliers depicting Stave in a Nazi uniform, with graphic photos of Holocaust victims and bloody fetuses. And it had all of his contact information as well as phone numbers and addresses for other family members.
“It wasn’t random,” he said. “They knew I’d be gone, and they wanted my daughter and neighbors to find them.”
On Monday, a protester showed up outside of his brother-in-law’s Rockville dental office to protest abortion where molars were being extracted.
“How was your trip to San Francisco?” the protester asked Stave, when he arrived at the dental office to confront him.
Seriously? Confronting a dentist’s patients with horrifying posters of ripped-up fetuses is a reasonable protest tactic?
And these folks don’t seem to care if children are around for the show. One year, the March for Life protesters leaving the Mall poured into the playground of my child’s preschool, putting stickers on the jackets and fliers into the hands of 4-year-olds. The police were called to get them out.
All of this is ridiculous.
People who want to stop abortion can make a difference with education, counseling and genuine efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies and support child-rearing.
They need to work toward safe and affordable day care and health care for children and toward generous workplace policies, including adequate family leave, so that parenthood is not an onerous and difficult prospect in America.
In last year’s report “Failing its Families,” Human Rights Watch wrote that at least 178 countries have national laws guaranteeing paid maternity leave. The exceptions include Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and the good ole United States of America.
Working on real issues that actually support the family values these protesters say they hold so dear is one way to stop abortions.
Harassing schoolchildren — or dentists — is not.
To read previous columns by Petula Dvorak, go to washingtonpost.com/