LeRoy Carhart is one of a handful of doctors performing late-term abortions in the US, and one of just three performing abortions in Nebraska. After his friend and fellow abortionist George Tiller was assassinated by a man with anti-abortion beliefs, Carhart vowed to take on late-term abortions full-time — and quickly became the anti-choice movement's de-facto public enemy number one.
On the eve of Independence Day, Carhart was scheduled to speak in Boston at the National Organization for Women's (NOW) annual conference. For a man targeted by people whom NOW President Terry O'Neill unequivocally calls "terrorists," Carhart was incredibly open. "You can't live your life in fear," he told the Phoenix from a private suite at the Park Plaza Hotel.
After Tiller's murder, Operation Rescue's Troy Newman announced he would focus that group's attention on Carhart. But the pressure and the threats haven't deterred him. "I spent 21 years in the Air Force," Carhart said softly.
Though Carhart was interviewed on local radio, his name was conspicuously absent from a list of speakers distributed in a NOW press release about the conference. Christina Knowles, state director of Massachusetts NOW, said security was heightened because of his presence: "We were extra careful with checking badges." Noting a large man at the door wearing a suit and an earpiece, I asked Carhart about his security measures. "We take precautions," said Carhart. But, he added, "I never talk about security."
As for the people who've threatened the doctor and his practice, Carhart and O'Neill agree that more drastic measures should be pursued. "Treat them like terrorists," Carhart said.
"Unlimited detention! Freeze their assets!" O'Neill added, noting that laws used against mosques and Muslims are not used on domestic terrorists, who, she said, "are somehow exempt from the harsh way we've treated international terrorism."
Later, at the conference, Erin Matson, NOW's action vice-president, introduced Carhart by noting, "We have fewer abortion rights today than a year ago," thanks to the recent health-care-reform package and the accompanying extension of the Hyde amendment.
"Abortion is a matter of the heart," Carhart told the assembly, quoting the late Tiller. "Until you understand the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all. As a physician the issue is not in black and white. Abortion lines are arbitrary, irresponsible, and dangerous."
Carhart got a standing ovation, as men in suits quietly and unobtrusively paced the periphery of the room.
"I promise I will do everything in my power to reduce the need for abortion," Carhart pledged. "But as long as there is a need, I will do them."