Bellevue, Neb. An anti-abortion group from Kansas is moving its fight north to Nebraska, preparing for a weekend demonstration and holding a workshop to plot its strategy for putting Dr. LeRoy Carhart out of business.
About 50 people, most holding signs in support of abortion rights, gathered Friday on the sidewalk outside Carhart’s clinic in this Omaha suburb.
A few local anti-abortion demonstrators also were on hand awaiting the arrival of Operation Rescue members who were traveling here from Wichita, Kan.
Many more demonstrators on both sides of the issue were expected at the clinic today.
Carhart has become the central figure in the nation’s abortion debate since Dr. George Tiller was gunned down May 31 in Wichita. Carhart, who was close friends with Tiller and performed abortions at his clinic, has said he hopes to open a Kansas facility to offer late-term abortions and other services Tiller provided.
Police who were prepared for a potentially raucous clash between protesters on Friday instead found a mostly quiet group gathered outside Carhart’s clinic. Some carried signs, one of which included an image of a bloody fetus. Another sign read, “Dr. Carhart is our hero.”
Carhart said he expected that Operation Rescue’s demonstration today would be no different from previous ones conducted at his and Tiller’s clinics over the years.
President Troy Newman said Operation Rescue’s demonstration is secondary to the workshop he’ll conduct. The workshop is designed to teach anti-abortion activists how to conduct investigations, file complaints and use the legal system to close the clinic.
Carhart called the group’s methods “pure harassment.”
He said he was scheduled to see about 15 patients Friday. Abortion rights proponents greeted patients with welcome signs and escorted them from the parking lot to the building entrance.
Carhart said he was touched by the show of support.
“This is a movement by the women of America, really,” he said. “I can’t say enough to thank them.”
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said the group would offer any help it can to keep the clinic open.
“Dr. Carhart’s safety and the safety of his staff, clinic and patients must be our paramount concern,” she said at a news conference in the clinic’s waiting room.
Operation Rescue complained to Nebraska officials last week about possible unsafe conditions at Carhart’s clinic. The attorney general’s office said the concerns were forwarded to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, which licenses medical facilities.
HHS spokeswoman Marla Augustine said state law requires complaints against doctors and medical clinics to be kept confidential, so the only time an investigation would be confirmed is when action is taken.
Asked about the allegations of unsafe practices, Carhart, who has operated his Bellevue clinic since 1985, said: “OK. And I’ve been here how long?”
Carhart’s clinic is in Bellevue’s business district, near a tree-lined street containing houses. Residents said they were wary of the demonstration.
Silvia Otterpohl, who has lived six houses down from the clinic for four years, was sweeping her front porch as she kept an eye on the protesters.
“I think it’s going to be really bad tomorrow. I’m scared,” she said.
Asked what she’s worried about, she said, “a shooting or something.”
Police cars carrying two officers cruised by frequently. A police captain said eight officers would be patrolling the neighborhood on Friday. Today, eight officers will be on foot, backed up by others in cruisers, to handle the larger demonstrations expected.
Carhart twice has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge bans on a procedure its opponents call partial-birth abortion. In 2000, the high court ruled for Carhart in striking down a Nebraska law because it lacked an exception to preserve a woman’s health and encompassed a more common abortion method.
He filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. In 2007, the high court upheld the federal ban on the procedure, which generally was used to end pregnancies in the second and third trimester.