- Anti-abortion protesters come equipped with props (Photo: TBD Staff)
“LeRoy Carhart! Please leave! Please stop this barbarism!" announced the Rev. Partrick Mahoney from a grassy area near Germantown's Reproductive Health Services, the new home of late-term abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart. 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.”
When Rev. Mahoney, a veteran of area clinic protests, mounted his protest of Carhart's new practice, he remembered to think of the children. "I'm not going to go into complete detail as to what this procedure is, because there are children in attendance,” Mahoney announces through a P.A. system. "It drags out for over three days, and needles are inserted into the baby to kill them. I’m just going to stop there," he says. Later, Mahoney leads a "prayer walk" down the sidewalk in front of the clinic. He is flanked by children with pieces of red tape covering their mouths, each little face reading "LIFE."
A short distance away, a group of teens stand next to a picture of a bloody human head being served up with a pair of tongs. It is almost as tall as they are. "That's the head of the baby," says Gaithersburg resident Jamie Morrison, 17, who holds up one side of the sign. "He took the head off."
Nicole, 15, supports the other side of the decapitation image. She and her friend Grayson, 16, came down from Rockville with a youth group from the St. Raphael Catholic Church. “I'm here because I just found out they’re doing abortions here after 22 weeks,” says Nicole. "He's saying he wants to make Maryland the abortion capital of the U.S.”
“The abortion capitol of the world,” Grayson corrects her.
“Of the world," Nicole confirms.
"I'm angry," William Cooper of Darnstown, Md. tells me. "I hope I look angry."
Cooper, 57, is upset by the prospect of late-term abortions coming to Maryland—"there's blood, bones, there’s skin, you know what I'm saying?"—but he's particularly perturbed by the police presence outside the venue of these abortions. Police have cordoned off the clinic with tape. A light-up sign reading "EMPLOYEES AND CLIENTS ONLY" sits at the entrance. All cars are stopped before entering the parking lot. Across the street, uniformed officers watch the proceedings from a second-story deck. "This guy's friend was shot and killed, you know what I'm saying?" Cooper tells me. "They might as well make murder legal, given what they're doing here."
Cooper, who learned of the protest through his Bible study at the Darnestown, Md.'s Christian Life Center, clarifies that he wishes no violence on Dr. Carhart. "No one deserves to die—I’m not saying that," Cooper says. "But this guy's being protected by law enforcement. After he aborts these babies, he gets to go home and eat a steak. How does that make sense?" Cooper frames himself as a sort of expert on these metaphysical issues. "I do landscaping, and I also tell people about God," he says. "That's actually my main thing."
"This is a baby at 20 weeks," says Cathy Roth, cradling a fetal model in her mittens. "Isn't it just heartbreaking?"
Roth's accessory—umbilical cord included—is a holdover from some of her previous advocacy work. "In my younger days, I used to teach chastity, and I would bring in the model to show the children what could come of the activity," she says. This morning, Roth also came equipped with a tiny manger, in which the fetus rested periodically.
Despite the age-specific prop, Roth, 62, says she condemns abortions of fetuses of any size. "It’s just as tragic when it happens to a six-week-old as to a 20-week-old," Roth says. "They all have souls." Roth says she often comes to Reproductive Health Services to pray, but she's never seen a crowd quite the size of this morning's protest. "Usually, it’s me and some other people," Roth says. "I know a lot of people didn’t know this was happening. Reproductive Health Services: That doesn’t sound like an abortionary."
Diane Hess, who presented a graphic fetus sign toward traffic in front of the clinic, came to “protest abortion in general and later-term abortion specifically,” she tells me. Hess says that anti-abortion activists are particularly concerned that abortion providers have expanded outside of the city center and into suburban areas. "He’s right in our midst. He's not hiding, but proud of it," Hess says. "You’d expect something like this to be in D.C." Hess, 53, wasn't satisfied by the turnout of fellow Maryland residents. "There should be a thousand people here," she says.
Last night, 48-year-old David Lamb heard about Carhart's move to Maryland on the local news. So he printed out the word "MURDERER" on eight pieces of paper, scrounged up some fetal imagery from, he says, "The Internet," then headed out to his first political action in decades. "This is the first protest I've been to since since I went on an anti-nuke rally in ’75," says the Laytonsville, Md. resident. Lamb says he was moved to protest because fetuses at later stages of development "have feelings and sensations." But he says he's still working out whether abortions performed at an early stage of pregnancy also constitute murder. "I'm just glad that I have three happy, healthy children," Lamb says. "I've had friends whose babies were retarded, and had other problems, and they love them. And their kids love them, too."
The Rev. Matthew Westfox, a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, came down to Germantown from Brooklyn last night. "We're here to support, protect, and defend Dr. Carhart's clinic," Westfox says. "We have some clergy inside the office to help support the patients, but we're also out here to show the community that the other religious representatives here do not speak for God."
Westfox is one of a dozen or so abortion rights supporters who came to counter the pro-life throng. Westfox says it's difficult to strike a balance between supporting the clinic's patients without giving too much credence to the pro-life set. "Some pro-choice groups did not attend the protest per request of the clinic," Westfox says. "They didn’t want too many people here making it into some kind of circus."
"We purposefully aren’t yelling or chanting, “ says Emily Kadar, a campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation, an organization that also had a strong presence outside the clinic. Feminist Majority Foundation employees gathered outside the clinic at 8 a.m. this morning, gingerbread cookies and heat bags on-hand. The FMF met with clinic reps and local police before the clinic's opening to determine how best to assist with Carhart's arrival. "This is Dr. Carhart, who is the target of extremists," Feminist Majority Foundation's Margie Moore tells me. "We really try to educate the police, because these extremists' tactics are hostile to patients, to clinicians, and to police forces as well."
The elevated police presence meant that volunteers from the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force didn't need to escort patients inside. Instead, they stood outside the protest in neon "ESCORT" vests. Anti-abortion activists sometimes turned to them to air grievances.
“Ask her when she thinks life begins!” one protester yells at me as I approached WACDTF volunteer Kunni Biener.
“You promised you wouldn’t follow us around," Biener says.
"Ask her when she thinks life begins!"
“I have kids. I remember exactly when life begins," says Biener.
Despite the large number of abortion activists on-hand for Carhart's arrival, tensions between the two camps failed to rise above gotcha questions and low-level zings. "We’re not really their focus," admits Paul Vallette, another WACDTF volunteer on-hand for the protest. "Sometimes," Biener adds, "they just like to get in your face and say stupid things.”