A nondescript hotel in the suburbs is where Patch met with Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the Nebraska doctor who nudged a quiet Germantown community into the midst of a broader abortion debate.
Carhart is one of the few doctors in the U.S. to openly perform late-term abortions. Though he lives in Nebraska, he has maintained an office in Germantown — Maryland’s abortion laws are less restrictive, he said — ever since Nebraska outlawed most abortions performed after the 20th week of gestation. And ever since, Carhart’s office on Wisteria Drive has drawn supporters and protesters, most recently culminating with hundreds of people rallying in support of either the Summer of Mercy 2.0 or the Celebration of Choice in July and early August.
Carhart, 69, spoke with Patch on the condition that he was not asked about his safety or security. He responded to a variety of questions, such as how he reconciles abortion with his own faith in God and whether he sees himself continuing the work of his mentor Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who was fatally shot in 2009 by an abortion opponent during a church service.
As for the future, Carhart has said that he wants to expand in Germantown, offering more general health care for men and women, such as STD testing and other medical screenings. He said he also wants to start an adoption program here.
“You can't really say that you offer all options to women until you really do offer all options to women,” Carhart told Patch. “Abortion is fine if that's what they need to do, but if that's not what they need to do, they need to know that, to be able to talk with people who have placed children up for adoption, be able to talk with prospective families.”
Here are excerpts from that interview.
Q&A with Dr. LeRoy Carhart
Patch: What are your personal views, as far as religion, and where does abortion fit in to that?
Carhart: I was brought up in a family that was religious. My wife and I were active in the church until it became too dangerous for us to go— George [Tiller] and I used to joke about that. I went a couple of times with him, but I don't go to any church actively now. I don't think you have to go to a church to be a religious person. I think if you're asking do I believe in God, yeah, I do. I think what I'm doing is because of God, not in spite of God.
I think it's no different than with someone who has had a heart attack: If we were to save their life are we going against God's will because if medicine didn't intervene, the patient was going to die? Is that what God wants, for a person to die? That's not an issue, not a question. It’s the same thing with a flawed pregnancy. People wouldn't think God created a flawed pregnancy to punish or test the parents. I think that it's just like any other medical condition, something that happens. God has provided us with a way to educate people to help take care of it. I think that because a certain, small group of people don't believe in it doesn't mean that it's not the right thing to do.
Patch: In a prior interview with NPR, you mentioned that the late Dr. George Tiller told you that he wanted you to carry on his work. Why did you agree to do it?
Carhart: It seemed that there was no one coming forth to do the later abortions and that's what Dr. Tiller said to me — somebody needs to do this. He knew from talking to me where my feelings were and how important an issue I felt this was. So I think that's why he asked me. Once I started working for him, there was never any question. It takes a different skill set to do the later abortions than it does to do the early ones. People aren't trained to do that anywhere. It took a lot of training. Everybody can take care of the easy ones. It's the complications.
Patch: Do you see yourself carrying on Dr. Tiller’s legacy?
Carhart: Yeah, I think so. I hope I am.
Patch: Why keep doing what you’re doing now?
Carhart: The problem is now that if I leave, there are still only three or four people in the country that are doing this. It's not enough doctors. If I could get the practice going, training two or three people who are younger than I am, I would gladly step down, but we're working towards that, but that's a few years away yet.
Patch: What would you do if laws in Maryland changed?
Carhart: Well, there are other states, other places. But I don't think the laws here will change. Maryland is one of the most pro-choice communities in the country. … If they make abortions where I can't do them any more, then I'm not going to do them anymore. Does that hurt me? No it doesn't. I get to retire. But does it hurt the women of the United States? The answer is yes it does.