The recent burst of media coverage of late abortion providers continues with an August 15 Newsweek article about Dr. LeRoy Carhart. Dr. Carhart, who runs the Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska, used to perform late abortions at Dr. Tiller’s Kansas clinic. Now that the Kansas clinic is closed, Dr. Carhart is expanding his own practice to serve the women who would have gone to Tiller in the past.
It is not always clear to a late abortion provider whether a woman should get a late abortion or not. Offering a glimpse into the heartbreaking decisions that doctors must sometimes make, the article describes two patients’ circumstances and how Dr. Carhart dealt with them:
At Tiller’s clinic, [Carhart] saw a rape victim in the third trimester of pregnancy. Every time she felt the baby move, she said, it brought back the rape all over again. She’d made three suicide attempts. Carhart performed her abortion. “If a woman is going to kill herself, then I think you have to look at it for her health,” he says. The day before Tiller’s death, a woman came into Carhart’s Nebraska clinic 28 weeks along. Carhart asked her what she would do if she had to carry the baby to term. “She didn’t say she was going to kill herself,” he says. “She said she would put it up [for adoption].” He turned her away.
Dr. Carhart faces the disapproval of anti-choice people in his community and across the nation, and is no stranger to death threats. Despite these challenges, he is determined to continue. He feels an immense responsibility for his patients:
He won’t take long vacations because “you can’t leave the women waiting, or at least don’t want to.” He maintains medical licenses in seven states so that if another provider is “hurt, retired, or killed,” he can step in. If women need this service, Carhart reasons, who is he to say no? If he won’t provide these complex and challenging abortions, who will?
This sentiment is admirable, and has ensured that many women receive the care they need. However, there is something disturbing about the fact that in 21st century America, a handful of beleaguered doctors shoulder so much responsibility for providing a legal medical service to women who need it. Let us hope that Dr. Carhart succeeds in expanding his practice and training more doctors to follow in his footsteps.