A short while ago, Doctor Leroy Carhart announced that he would no longer be performing late term abortions at a facility in Germantown, Maryland. He is now 75 so it’s probably a good move for him to start cutting back. Still, I want to take a moment to thank Lee for his service to women across the country.
Lee is one of the softest spoken people I have ever met. Indeed, I always felt like I had to lean to him to hear what he was saying. Despite his soft spoken nature, his physical presence was a bit intimidating as he was about six feet tall and admittedly overweight. To add to his interesting persona, he has a high nasal voice that makes it sound like he is whining all the time.
I met Lee and his wife Mary in the 1990s when I became the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. Like his good friend, George Tiller, Lee worked quietly (or as quietly as the anti-abortion folks would let him) in a modest building in Bellevue, Nebraska. Even back then he was performing abortions up to 24 weeks. I never really asked him if he was doing third trimester abortions and never confirmed as much.
At our first meeting, we had lunch and at one point he casually told me how his barn had burnt down in a suspicious fire and he lost several horses. He was very stoic about it and in fact he never said he could prove the anti-abortion folks did it but his silence on the matter told me he was at least very suspicious as he had been the target of many massive protests over the years.
He regularly attended our conventions and slowly started to come out of his shell. He understood the need for abortion doctors to speak up and destigmatize the abortion procedure and we were happy when he started to climb on that bandwagon. Then, years later, his good friend, Doctor George Tiller was assassinated while attending his church Wichita.
By that time, I had left NCAP but I immediately called Lee to let him know I was thinking about him. I could hear him choking up when he said that he was going to “take over for George.” When I asked what he meant, he said he was going to take over his third trimester abortion practice. I privately applauded him for his dedication but a few days later I was horrified when I saw Lee on CNN telling the entire world that he was taking over for George! I called him immediately and said “Lee, you have got to shut up or else you’ll be next.” He politely listened but disagreed.
A few weeks later, I saw him at a memorial service in Washington DC for Doctor Tiller. Lee was surrounded by federal marshals and I had to get permission to see him. When I went into the little anteroom, we gave each other a big hug and I teared up. After a few minutes I said “Lee, don’t go on TV anymore, just shut up and help women.” He smiled and said “you know, you were the one who kept telling me I had to speak up in the first place.” I said that I understood but it was different now. The presence of the federal marshals was evidence that he was a potential target, that some nut ball was out there thinking he would take out the next late term abortion doctor. He politely ignored me and never went underground as I suggested.
Then a short while later, I learned he was performing late abortions in Maryland – by reading about it in an interview he gave to the friggin Washington Post! Several days later, I drove up to the clinic, which was surrounded by hundreds of protestors smelling blood. Amidst the chaos outside, Lee sat calmly in his office looking at some websites as if nothing was going on outside. We had a pleasant meeting and I have not seen or heard from him until I read he was leaving Reproductive Health Services in Germantown, MD.