“They’d rather die than have these pregnancies.”

Flickr / Jon Chiang

The Washington Post ran a lengthy profile of Leroy Carhart, a Nebraska doctor who travels to Maryland twice a month to perform late-term abortions:

Carhart, who once dreamed of becoming a hand surgeon, said he witnessed how abortions often went bad when he was a medical resident in Philadelphia in the 1970s. In emergency rooms, he saw women who had tried to self-abort with knitting needles and coat hangers. Many required serious surgery; some died.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1985, he worked for a few years as a general surgeon but began performing abortions part time at an Omaha clinic at the request of a former patient, also the clinic’s nursing director.

On Sept. 6, 1991, the day Nebraska passed its parental-notification law, his farm burned down. No family members were hurt, but the fire destroyed his house and other buildings, and killed his dog, cat and 17 horses. The next day, Carhart received a letter informing him that the fire was in retaliation for the abortions. Local officials were unable to determine the fire’s cause.

“That was when I decided I would not be part time,” he said. “It’s where my tenacity comes from.” He resigned his hospital privileges. He began training other doctors. He opened his own abortion clinic the next year.

“I decided I wasn’t going to just be a provider, I was going to be an activist.”

Carhart sees about 60 women a month in Maryland — about half of whom are local. And that number shocked me. It’s amazing to think that there are 60 women who have fetuses — fetuses that they wanted — and have to go into this tiny clinic and say goodbye to their babies before they’re even born, because of anomalies (Carhart says all of the late-term abortions he performs are because of developmental problems). And it’s frustrating to think that in this time of great sadness, they’re faced with willfully ignorant protestors accusing them of murder.

I saw the Washington Post story right after reading a Kate Sheppard profile of a woman who had an abortion at 29 weeks because her daughter had major brain development issues:

Weinstein was faced with the prospect of giving birth to a baby that was expected to suffer from nearly constant seizures, could have required feeding tubes to stay alive, and could have been in a vegetative state, if it survived at all. She decided to end the pregnancy rather than continuing for another two months and prolonging the suffering. It was a very personal decision, she says, one made between her, her family, and her doctors. “We wanted her and loved her,” Weinstein says. “In some ways I feel a little bit lucky, in that she was so sick that the decision was almost made for us. I don’t wrestle with guilt.”

Even though she lived in Maryland and saw a doctor in Washington, DC, Weinstein found it difficult to obtain an abortion so far along in her pregnancy. There were no doctors, at the time, that offered the procedure at her stage in the Washington area. She had to travel to Dr. Warren Hern’s clinic in Boulder, Colorado, far from her support network. Weinstein spent a week in Colorado between the initial visit with the doctor and the actual procedure, all the time worrying that the baby was suffering. It wasn’t until July 14 that she was able to undergo the procedure. “I don’t have words to describe the agony of those days,” she says. But, “knowing how sick the child was, I can’t imagine ever being forced to carry the baby to term.”

The ordeal was expensive. The Weinsteins racked up $17,500 in medical bills, and it took a lengthy fight with their insurance company to get the procedure covered. There was also airfare and the hotel stay to cover.

Weinstein, of course, went through this before Dr. Carhart started serving the East Coast — and she’s lucky she could afford to cover the expenses to get her out to Colorado.

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