The crowd was smaller than a year ago, but the prayers were the same. Protesters outside the Germantown Reproductive Health Services clinic want abortion to end and for Dr. LeRoy Carhart to leave.
The protesters Monday bore signs crying and “Adoption a Living Option” and calling Carhart “The Butcher of Germantown.”
Carhart, a Nebraska-based physician, began performing controversial late-term abortions at the clinic Dec. 5, 2010, after Nebraska passed laws limiting certain types of abortions. The clinic stands out because it performs second- and third-trimester pregnancies.
He and his wife, Mary, brought their practice to Maryland because the state gives “exact reasons” why abortions can be performed on viable fetuses, he said.
Maryland permits abortions before the fetus is viable, or at any point if necessary to protect the life and health of the mother, or if the fetus has genetic defects or serious deformities or abnormalities.
The bulk of patients seeking those later term abortions are referred to him from maternal fetal medicine practices and genetic counselors, he said. About 850,000 abortions were performed last year in the United States, Carhart claimed.
Carhart said about 400 of those abortions are “post-viability,” of which he performs about a third.
“They may think it should be illegal, but that doesn’t make it the law,” Carhart said in a phone interview.
A year ago, about 1,000 people protested Carhart’s first anniversary in Germantown. On Monday, about 300 protested, a leader of the vigil said.
Grace Morrison, the leader of the Monday vigils, one of the organizers of the event, called the presence of the people at the vigil “very encouraging.” The group has convinced at least 74 women to not have abortions, she said. Instead, she and her supporters have tried to show that there are alternatives, she said.
“We’re doing housing, job support, [providing] baby supplies,” she said.
Ellen Castellano, a sidewalk counselor who works in Germantown Pregnancy Choices, an office set up opposite Carhart’s clinic, said community awareness has increased since they began protesting two years ago.
“When he came to liberal Montgomery County, he thought he would have a cakewalk,” she said. Instead, there’s been “quite a vigorous response to his presence here,” she said.
“A lot of women that go in there don’t know there are people that will adopt these children regardless [of birth defects],” she said.
“They just think the only option is to kill a child that has these poor prognoses,” she said.
Carhart said he isn’t fazed by the protesters or the vigils.
“I was in the Air Force in Vietnam, and everybody wanted to kill me then, and it’s sort of the same now,” he said.
The anti-abortion advocates decried violence.
“We don’t want anyone to feel threatened,” said Andrew Glenn, regional director for the Maryland Coalition for Life, which organized the Monday protest.
“It’s tough, with the hundreds of people who come, we can’t control what everyone says,” he added.
Although the protesters outside claimed he was committing evil in their community, Carhart compared them to religious extremists.
“Radical religious people who want to push their views on other people are radical religious people,” he said. “I consider them no different from the Taliban.”
Carhart learned how to perform abortions in medical school.
“I got to see women dying in the hospital from self-attempted abortions,” he said, describing a ward constantly full of women suffering from post-abortion complications.
“It’s just an unbelievable difference now,” he said.
Pastor Charlie Baile of the Shady Grove Presbyterian Church in Derwood compared the struggle against abortion to a marathon, instead of a sprint.
“We need to be thinking of the cost involved — there’s a sacrifice. It’s not an easy thing,” he said.
He said that he believed their presence outside of the clinic was making it harder for Carhart, who is 71, to find someone to take over his clinic when he retires.
Two years ago, when Carhart came here, Andrew Glenn’s wife was 20 weeks pregnant.
“Just knowing that they’re killing babies that are two to three months older — it’s heart breaking,” he said.
Glenn told the assembled crowd that in 1991, there were about 2,000 abortion centers around the United States.
“Today there are about 600,” he said. “So praise God.”
Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a Kansas group that opposes abortion, put the number at 660 clinics.
“Those numbers don’t match anything we’ve seen anywhere else,” said Rachel Jones, a Guttmacher Institute senior research associate. The Guttmacher Institute is a sexual health advocacy and research institute in New York. A 2008 study by the institute put the total number of facilities providing abortions at about 1,800; 850 of which were abortion clinics.
Glenn, who lives in Germantown, said he drives by the clinic every day.
“No one knew about it until the most notorious late-term abortionist came to town,” he said.
“As long as Carhart comes here to kill babies up to the moment of their birth, we’ll be here to let [him] know it’s the wrong thing to do,” Craig Hostetler said.
Ali Gargulinski, 17, said she protested outside of the clinic throughout the summer.
“Both my mom and sister were born when they were at seven months. He kills kids this age,” she said. “I just really want this [clinic] to close.”