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Doctor’s arrival revives anti-abortion legislation

GERMANTOWN — The arrival in Maryland this week of a doctor who has been frank about his performance of abortions late in pregnancy has not only spurred public protests in the local community, but also prompted legislators to propose new laws that would ban the practice in the state.

Del. Don H. Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, who has proposed anti-abortion legislation in the past, said Wednesday that he is planning to introduce new legislation that would ban abortions late in pregnancy in Maryland.

“I will be trying to put together a team of legislators on the ‘pro-life’ side of the aisle that would push a piece of legislation to regulate abortion clinics as they do in many other states,” Dwyer said. Maryland’s 2011 legislative session kicks off Jan. 12.

Protesters absent

Monday, hundreds of anti-abortion demonstrators gathered to protest Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska when he began work at the Germantown Reproductive Health Services clinic.

However, by Wednesday, no protesters were outside the clinic.

In a phone interview, Carhart said the protest was a “publicity stunt” that has not affected the clinic at all.

“We were able to take care of all the patients without delays,” he said.

Carhart had worked with Dr. George Tiller, who also acknowledged performing late-term abortions. Tiller was fatally shot in 2009 while attending church in Kansas.

Carhart believes complaints in Maryland will die down quickly.

“I’m not sure if there’s much public outrage,” said Carhart, who likened some of the protesters to terrorists. “There are some very vocal ‘terrorists.’ I don’t think there’s a difference between (terrorists) and people who try to push their views on others. They shouldn’t force their beliefs on people.”

But Dwyer said the protest was significant.

“I think it clearly shows that there are people still interested in the abortion issue if they are willing to stand in the freezing cold” to protest against it, he said.

In February, Dwyer introduced the Maryland Personhood Bill in the House of Delegates. If passed, it would have granted full rights to “human beings … from the beginning of their biological development.”

The bill was defeated in committee in March.

Dwyer said that along with proposing new legislation to prohibit abortions in the late stages of pregnancy, he plans to reintroduce the Maryland Personhood Bill in the 2011 session.

The Germantown clinic already offered earlier-term abortions, pregnancy testing and family planning services.

But Carhart is one of the few doctors in the United States who openly acknowledges that he performs abortions late in pregnancy, a service that will also be offered at the Germantown clinic.

Carhart will only perform abortions in the second trimester, which ranges from 13 to 28 weeks, if there are indications that the woman or the fetus faces a life-threatening condition, said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. There are other clinics and hospitals in Maryland that offer second trimester abortions, Saporta said.

“(His services) will expand the care available in Maryland so women who need care will not have to travel to obtain that care,” Saporta said.

In Maryland, abortions are not allowed when the fetus becomes viable, which means that it is capable of living outside of the womb, unless the woman’s life is threatened. Abortions can also be performed if there are fetal abnormalities that could endanger the life of the woman or the fetus. In both cases, the doctor makes those determinations.

Since his arrival on Monday, anti-abortion activists have been outraged by Carhart’s presence.

“We’re very disturbed that he’s chosen to set up shop here in Maryland,” said Nancy Paltell, associate director for the Respect for Life program at the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Paltell said she believes Carhart chose Maryland to practice in because of the state’s “lax laws.”

“We’re upset that he’s coming to Maryland to prey on women,” she said.

Dwyer agreed that Carhart chose Maryland because the laws are more lenient than in states such as Nebraska, where Carhart practiced full-time until it recently adopted restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Carhart confirmed that he made the move to Maryland because of more lenient laws, but also because women would be able to travel more easily to access his services.

“I think being where the majority of patients have to travel the least makes the most sense,” Carhart said. “As far as geography and service for women goes, Maryland is a perfect place.”

Currently, Carhart is splitting his time between working at the Germantown clinic and at his office in Nebraska.

Jennifer Blasdell, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, said she was disappointed by the attempts to get Carhart to stop offering his services in Maryland.

“(His services) make it possible for women to make the personal and private decision to access safe and legal abortion care with dignity,” Blasdell said.

Patients were escorted in and out of the Germantown clinic on Monday by volunteers from the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force. Montgomery County police also were present for the demonstration and have been patrolling throughout the week.

Carhart would not comment on his personal security.

Despite the disturbances, Carhart said this week has been “phenomenal.”

“We’ve had many more appointments than we could’ve anticipated,” he said. “It’s great to be able to take care of people.”