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Come to Nebraska to Defend Women’s Rights & Protect Dr. Carhart

Come to Nebraska to Defend Women’s Rights & Protect Dr. Carhart
 
by Lina Thorne
 

Dr. George Tiller’s Wichita clinic, which cared for tens of thousands of women over thirty-six years, was closed a week after he was assassinated on May 31, shot in the head at close range. One of his colleagues, Dr. Leroy Carhart, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, has asserted that he will care for Dr. Tiller’s patients and continue the provision of late-abortion services, stepping forward to fill the great need left by Tiller’s absence. He had worked at Dr. Tiller’s clinic, as well as his own clinic in Bellevue, Nebraska. In 1991, his home and barn were burned to the ground in an arson claimed by anti-abortion activists.  This spurred Dr. Carhart to devote more of his practice to providing abortions, and to challenge laws restricting abortion access.
 
This brave stance on the part of this 67 yr. old doctor was Operation Rescue’s cue to turn all attention to him as their next “target #1.” To that end, they have announced their “visit” to Dr. Carhart’s clinic the weekend of August 28 and 29 for “rescue outreach” and a “rally for victory,” with the aim of closing down his clinic also. They have years of practice conducting this “rescue” outside Dr. Tiller’s clinic, using giant grotesque images of gore to harass patients, throngs of hysterical zombies throwing themselves in front of cars, and “counseling” women entering the parking lot by screaming at them, lying about what kind of help they would offer, and doing all this in the name of a hateful brand of Christianity.

The Wichita section of Operation Rescue, the group dedicated to ending women’s right to abortion and birth control, employs people like Cheryl Sullenger, their “senior policy advisor,” who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in California. After moving to Wichita in order to make Dr. Tiller target number one for the national anti-abortion movement, they celebrated when their years of harassment, threats and violent attacks culminated in Tiller’s assassination. 
 
One of their associates, Kansas Coalition for Life Chairman Mark Gietzen, stated, “God has his own way, but you can’t say our prayers weren’t answered” (when Dr. Tiller was murdered). Since being captured, Scott Roeder, Dr. Tiller’s murderer, has corresponded freely with the hard-core violent sections of his movement from prison, speaking to the media, and promising “similar events” are planned.
 
This will not go unopposed!
 
In the week after Dr. Tiller was killed, rallies and candlelight vigils were held across the country as many people were stunned by the sudden return to violence. The last doctor had been shot in 1998; and while the Bush years were marked by still increasing restrictions on abortion under the born-again president, the violence and threats towards abortion providers decreased.
 
Dr. Tiller’s assassination punctuated a rise in violence, harassment, and threats that escalated approximately six months before Bush left office and has worsened since then. While many who have been providing abortion services in the trenches for years have sucked up their courage and carried on with the business of providing healthcare for women as usual, others, including younger women, have been newly galvanized into action by this attack.
 
The Christian Defense Coalition, based in Washington DC, planned a celebratory prayer vigil at Dr. Tiller’s now-closed Women's Health Care Services only two weeks after the murder, but when they arrived in town they found that the clinic’s property was already occupied by a well-attended abortion rights rally organized by the Wichita NOW chapter of local Wichitans determined to keep them away. They were forced to change their plans and relocated away from the clinic.
 
Then, during the Sotomayor hearings, notorious misogynist Randall Terry toured the country rallying his forces to work to get her confirmation filibustered. Terry was the first of the major anti-abortion activists to congratulate Tiller’s assassin, the very night of the murder, via a video on YouTube. He is known not only for founding Operation Rescue, but also for popping up at almost every single major Christian fascist mobilization: from Terri Schiavo’s hospice to the mobs outside Obama’s Notre Dame speech this past spring.
 
When Terry came to Wichita last month, he staged a small press conference – right in front of the closed clinic! Instead of allowing him the space to perform for the media while counter-protesting from a distance, local abortion rights activists interrupted him, chanted over him, and generally shouted down his hate speech, preventing him from carrying his message that day. It’s these sorts of counter-protests that show the deep well of anger that has been uncorked.
 
The plans to target Dr. Carhart have provoked a response on the part of women’s groups and progressive people throughout the Midwest, though not yet on the level needed to defeat the emboldened Christian fascist movement. The Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), one of the most active groups in defending Dr. Tiller in Wichita, called for counter protest to defend Dr. Carhart’s clinic from all over the Midwest, in conjunction with the Nebraska NOW chapter. Individuals and small groups from surrounding states have already responded, planning on coming from Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. A NOW chapter from the Chicago suburbs is working to fill two buses to carry people to Nebraska.
 
The women who are coming are filled with a positive spirit of determination. At the same time, they understand this is not a “mobilization as usual.” The atmosphere is charged with the sense that the anti-abortion storm troopers heading to Nebraska are the hard-core of that movement, those invigorated by the violence done in their name only months ago.
 
One Kansas woman I spoke to mentioned the right-wing “tea party” disruptions of Congressional town hall meetings on health care. The right-wing movement inclusive of the anti-abortion activists seems to be whipped up and angry, ready to lash out at and attack American politicians, no less than ordinary people they disagree with. That battle has been cast as a struggle over a national health care plan, but it has also projected an intimidating and threatening pall over all social questions, with the subtext that a Black president can’t be legitimate. Especially for people living side by side with these reactionaries, the reverberations of the town hall scenes have been serious.
 
On top of all this, the federal marshals providing security for Dr. Carhart 24/7 after Dr. Tiller was murdered are being withdrawn.  This news was revealed after Operation Rescue announced their plans; and sends a terrible message of encouragement to those violently opposed to all abortion and birth control.
 
Come to Nebraska!
 
What more do you need to know? Join us in Nebraska on August 28th and 29. Help to draw the line and defend Dr. Carhart and women’s lives.

As Sunsara Taylor wrote after Dr. Tiller was shot, “Either this killing will succeed in creating a climate where abortion providers cannot do their work and no one else joins them in that work, or it will be answered by growing numbers of people waking up, coming off the sidelines, defending our doctors and our clinics, and reversing the whole dynamic that has led to this situation where not only abortion, but birth control too, is imperiled.”

Contact Lina Thorne for information on World Can't Wait's plans for August 28/29.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.