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Foes in abortion wars to face off in Nebraska at late-term provider's clinic

August 28, 2009 |  8:17 pm

The fight over legalized abortion shifted to a new location this week, as forces from both sides of the debate converged on a small Nebraska abortion clinic in Bellevue, south of Omaha.

The clinic’s owner, LeRoy Carhart, was one of several physicians who had traveled each month to Wichita, Kan., to assist George Tiller in his late-term abortion practice. Tiller was gunned down on May 31 in the vestibule of his church. In the wake of the killing, Carhart had vowed to keep Tiller's clinic open and continue to work with medical students who wanted abortion training. Tiller's family decided to close the clinic permanently after his funeral in June.

Operation Rescue, the Wichita-based antiabortion group that ran campaigns of intimidation against Tiller and his staff, has turned its attention to Carhart and his Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska. The group has launched a campaign called Keep It Closed. Accusing Carhart of unsafe medical practices, it is asking state officials to shut down Carhart’s clinic.

Operation Rescue has filed a complaint against Carhart with the Nebraska attorney general, alleging that his clinic was unsafe. State health officials will not confirm whether they are investigating the clinic, according to the Omaha World-Herald. It is the same tactic the group used against Tiller, who was acquitted in March on misdemeanor criminal charges that he violated Kansas law, which tightly regulates the abortion of fetuses that are deemed viable, or able to live outside the mother’s womb. Tiller specialized in such procedures.

In response to Operation Rescue’s campaign against Carhart, a coalition of groups that supports legal abortion, such as the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women, has launched a counter-campaign in support of the burly, outspoken physician.

Both sides held news conferences today, and on Saturday, dozens of abortion supporters and foes plan to demonstrate in front of Carhart's clinic.

“In the wake of the election last November, the extremist wing of the antiabortion movement has made a decision to escalate again,” said Katherine Spillar, of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which held a news conference today in Omaha. “We are going to organize and litigate and pursue every means to make sure that these threats aren’t realized or acted on.”

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, who is involved in a trademark dispute with Randall Terry over the group's name, has denounced violence against abortion providers, but abortion supporters have castigated him for his harsh language, which they say incites violence. Operation Rescue routinely described Tiller as “Tiller the killer” on its website. The trial of the man accused of killing Tiller, Scott Roeder, is scheduled to begin on Sept. 21 in Wichita. 

Meanwhile, the Boulder Daily Camera reported Wednesday that a 70-year-old man from Spokane, Wash., has been indicted by a federal grand jury for threatening the life of Boulder, Colo., physician Warren Hern, one of a handful of doctors in the country who freely discuss their late-term abortion practices. On June 23, the indictment alleges, Donald Hertz called Hern’s clinic and threatened Hern and his family. If convicted, Hertz faces up to six years in prison and a fine of $350,000.  

-- Robin Abcarian

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Photo: Nikki Krempasky from Brooklyn, N.Y., at a rally outside Dr. LeRoy Carhart's clinic Friday in Bellevue, Neb. Credit: Associated Press