One of my dearest friends in the world is Doctor Leroy Carhart. Doctor Carhart is a physician who performs abortions in the tiny hamlet of Bellevue, Nebraska. He has been doing abortions for decades – and, I should add, he has been doing late term abortions over those years. In the last ten years or so, he became an outspoken advocate for abortion rights and, in fact, years ago he challenged the “Partial Birth Abortion Act,” a case that ultimately made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to working in Nebraska, for years Doctor Carhart had been traveling to Wichita, Kansas where he helped out Doctor George Tiller, a specialist in very late term abortions. As we all know by now, Doctor Tiller was murdered almost one year ago and soon thereafter, his clinic – his beautiful clinic – was shut down.
But Lee Carhart came to the rescue. Within hours of the murder, he was proudly announcing to the media that he would take over the late term abortion doctor mantle in order to help all of those women who normally would have gone to Doctor Tiller. He was all over the media, he started giving more speeches, and he pumped up his website. For good reason, he was applauded for his courage and his loyalty to his dear, departed friend.
A few weeks after Doctor Tiller’s murder, I caught up with Lee at a memorial service in Washington, D.C. He shared some wonderful thoughts with the crowd and afterwards I was escorted to a private room to see him. It had been years, so we had a good hug, a few tears were shed and then I looked him directly in the eye and said “Lee, shut the hell up.”
He was incredulous. For years, working through the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I encouraged him (and his colleagues) to speak openly about what he did, to no longer hide in the shadows anymore. My argument was that if abortion doctors were open about what they did and talked honestly about their work, then it would prevent the anti-abortion movement from filling in the information gap with their own distorted interpretation of things. So, Lee started talking – and talking and talking. Ultimately, he became one of our leading spokesmen.
But now I was telling him to shut up.
“Lee,” I said as I put my hands on his shoulders, “you now have a lot of patients that are relying on you. You need to be here for them. But when you go on television, you’re making yourself a target for some nut ball out there who might get the notion of taking out the next George Tiller.”
He was a little stunned at first and, as he often does, he started mumbling about how he understood what I was saying but….
“But what?” I screamed. “You’ve got an obligation to thousands of women and to George Tiller. You need to be there every day for your patients. You cannot go around making speeches everywhere, walking through crowds. You’re gonna get yourself shot, Lee, and I don’t want to have to come to another memorial service.”
He listened but I don’t think he heard me.
And yesterday I saw an announcement that he will be speaking at the national conference for the National Organization for Women in Boston in a few weeks.
Oh well…..Go get ’em, Lee.