It was one thing for anti-abortion protesters to shift their focus from — one of the few doctors in the country to openly perform late-term abortions — to the landlord of his Germantown clinic, said Todd Stave, the man who leases to the doctor.
But then abortion opponents , Stave said.
"They made an error in judgment coming after my family," Stave said. "I'm not someone who's going to run and hide."
Voice of Choice was born.
Under Stave's Voice of Choice initiative, volunteers call the homes of abortion opponents at their homes. The 44-year-old businessman said the initial list of numbers, about 30, comprised people who called his home urging him to stop leasing to Carhart. He refused to say how he acquired the other phone numbers and said he "didn't know" how many calls were made since VOC launched in September 2011.
Patch met with Stave at his Rockville home.
He said nothing has happened at his children's schools since VOC launched. But his name is back into the news, most recently on the front page of The Baltimore Sun, after fliers with photos of aborted fetuses were circulated around his in-laws' neighborhood in Baltimore. Fliers were also distributed around Stave's neighborhood in March.
Q&A with Todd Stave
PATCH: Given what has happened to you and your family, and given how you chose to respond with Voice of Choice, do you think at some point, the message can get lost in the delivery of the message?
STAVE: I believe the message can get lost in the method, for sure. There are a lot of people who — on both sides of the abortion debate — were very angry at the group that protested in front of the middle school … . I've lived here for 12 years. You send out fliers that compare me to a Nazi, there's not a single one of those people in the 28 houses [here] are going to say "What, he's a Nazi?" They're going to get angry that someone had the audacity to come into their neighborhood and try to defame one of their neighbors. That's what they get out of that. Not what he's doing. It doesn't matter whether you're for or against, the message is, someone came into our neighborhood and tried to harm one of us.
PATCH: How would you respond to someone who thinks calling the homes of those who have opposing views crosses the line?
STAVE: I can't fully disagree with it. Here's the main difference: It is true that we will respond in-kind. If what we're doing is calling people homes and trying to convey the message, we're doing in such a condescending, sarcastic way as to really convey to them that it's not so much what we're saying, but how we're saying it.
We make it very clear that we don't want people arguing or leaving messages or calling in the middle of the night or being loud. We have talking points that are really general: "We thank you for your prayers, we've heard what you've had to say." We ask very leading and very condescending questions. "Is it OK if we hit a woman if she operates an abortion clinic?" That sort of thing. Obviously the answer is "no." But the fact that we're asking it — it sends the message that we know who you are and what you're doing.
The answer is, I can't fully disagree with what they're doing. The main difference between what we do and what they do is we respond. We don't go serendipitously go pick on people.
PATCH: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?
PATCH: Really? Given all the energy you put into this.
STAVE: Activist? Is that the same as re-activist? What I'm doing here is helping people who have been attacked. I consider an activist someone who goes out and tries to change the world, or make a statement, or prevent people from doing things. We're standing up to fight for people who have been targeted by these people. I'm no more of an activist than say, I don't know, law enforcement or a lawyer filing a civil suit.
PATCH: Do you feel safe? Are you concerned for the safety of your family?
STAVE: I'm not at all concerned for the safety of my family. The people who publish these fliers and do these sorts of things, I think they are very passionate. They don't think far enough in advance about the possible outcomes. I don't think they're violent people. If they wanted to hurt me, they would have hurt me a long time ago.
PATCH: That doesn't make you afraid, to say that?
STAVE: I don't think they're going to hurt me. What good would it do to hurt me? The building will still stand. The doctor will still be there. The fact that I'm gone means nothing. It would not advance their cause. I'm not thumbing my nose at them. They know as well as I do it achieves nothing to come after my family.
PATCH: Considering your own upbringing [Stave's father was an abortion practitioner whose College Park, Md., office was fire-bombed in the 1980s; his father continued to work at the present site of the Germantown clinic up until his death], did you ever think abortion protesters would target your family?
STAVE: I didn't consider it until earlier this year. I really have nothing to do with that clinic except collecting rent. I'm not a practitioner. I collect money. That's it.
PATCH: With regard to activism, I just want to make sure I am clear: You do not consider yourself to be an activist. Not even in the sense of wanting to change the way people express their views on an issue — like abortion?
STAVE: No. I consider an activist as someone who wants to go out and attempt to change something, create a movement or affect policy or social attitudes. I don't think that. … One of the things I've come to learn since Voice of Choice started is that there is room for compromise in this debate. But it will never happen as long as the hate and the rhetoric continue to escalate. Until people stop with all the violence, we're not going to be able to sit around the table and come up with a solution or compromise to the issue.