Defending Abortion Doctor Carhart and the Lives of Women

This article originally appeared as correspondence on the Revolution website

A two-sided battle for public opinion about abortion—and over whether Dr. Leroy Carhart will be able to continue providing later term abortions which save the lives of women—became visible on the street this week near Carhart's clinic in Germantown, Maryland.
 
On one end of the street, up to 200 Catholic anti-abortion protesters gathered, as they do almost every weekend, to sing and pray for an end to abortion and raise funds for so-called "counselors" to chase women entering Dr. Carhart's clinic, trying to lure them into a fake "pregnancy option" clinic across the street and lie to them about abortion.
They had answered the call for nine days of protest aimed at shutting down the clinic made by Operation Rescue—which as Sunsara Taylor wrote, "is an organization of woman-hating, evolution-denying, theocratic, Christian fascists," opposes all abortion and birth control. (See "Why YOU should be in Maryland July 31-August 7,"Revolution #240.) A 24-foot Operation Rescue truck circled the block constantly with the word "CHOICE" next to pictures of dismembered fetuses.
 
At the other end of the block, 220 people marched in support of Dr. Carhart's call for a public street action in support of abortion. A Summer Celebration of Choice Walk raised more than $12,000 for the Trust Women Abortion Access Fund to help women who can't afford abortions.
 
And the week before, the Washington Post profiled Dr. Carhart on its front page in a story about the threats he's faced since choosing to perform abortions almost 40 years ago. The article includes chilling details of the 1991 arson fire that killed 17 horses on his farm and Dr. Carhart's response which was, "That was when I decided I would not be part time...I decided I wasn't going to just be a provider, I was going to be an activist." Carhart also has a clinic near Omaha called Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska, and he talked about his plans to expand services in Germantown to HIV testing, and care for lesbian, gay, and transgendered people who cannot get reproductive health care because other doctors refuse to examine them, and to train and network with other abortion providers about how to expand their work. (See "Neb. doctor who performs late-in-pregnancy abortions in Md. talks about future of clinic, security concerns," Washington Post, July 24, 2011.)
 
Abortion rights activists from as far as California raised funds to join in the Summer of Trust effort by World Can't Wait, the New York Coalition for Abortion Clinic Defense, and clinic escorts, most under age 35 (summeroftrust.com). They joined the National Organization for Women and other women's and religious pro-choice organizations to keep between 15 and 50 supporters on the street 14 hours every day. A church opened its building for supporters to hold discussions and make banners, while supplying snacks and dinner. Words of Choice, a professional theater production, drew 70 people to a performance of the work of 12 writers on why women's lives depend on controlling their bodies. The celebration was real, the appreciation of abortion providers profound and moving.
 
On the street, a collection of banners directed at traffic saying "Abortion Providers Save Women's Lives!" "Abortion on Demand & Without Apology!" "I Don't Regret My Abortion!" and "TRUST WOMEN" grew as supporters gained confidence in boldly proclaiming the need for abortion for women to be free and began sharing their own abortion stories.
 
Operation Rescue leader Troy Newman, who moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 2001 to "stop" Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider assassinated there in 2009, was on the street only briefly. He photographed abortion supporters from a distance, then darted across the street and up to a woman holding a sign saying "Dr. Carhart is a Hero." As he leaned close to take her photo, she said, "Who the hell are you?" Newman sneered, "I'm Troy Newman, BITCH!" and ran into a waiting car, clarifying that Operation Rescue, and the rest of the anti-abortion movement, is, at its core, about the total submission and degradation of women.
 
Robust discussion and arguments went on throughout the week about whether the anti-abortionists are just "idiots" or are following a mandate for a Christian theocracy with support at the highest levels of the government, and about whether you can or should challenge people about their religious ideas. Some members of organizations working to elect Democrats argued that the Democrats are the only defense of abortion rights, while others began to more deeply question why legal attacks on abortion are mainly being conceded by the Democratic Party. Quotes from newly purchased copies of BAsics were fuel for conversations about Bob Avakian's vision of a communist society where women will fully take part in transforming the world and emancipating humanity as a whole. When Revolution newspaper was in the mix, people were moved to think more deeply, and differently, about the importance of the immediate battle to keep Dr. Carhart and other abortion providers safe and working.
 
Summer of Choice, a project of Dr. Carhart's clinic, said on August 5, "Our signs and banners proclaiming support for Dr. Carhart, for all abortion providers, and for their patients draw honks, waves, and upturned thumbs from passersby, some of whom even stop to unload water or coffee or doughnuts or cookies or pizza for our grateful supporters. The stark difference between the response to our presence and the response to the cluster of nasty anti-choice signs down the street could not be more clear—or more rewarding to those of us on the side of trusting women... Your support helps us to continue our much-needed work. A million thanks—Dr. Carhart and all of us are grateful, and so are the women we serve."