The 58-year-old former Air Force surgeon who challenged Nebraska's ban on "partial-birth" abortion is no stranger to strife. Nine years ago, Dr. Leroy Carhart had his family's rural home and belongings burned in a fire. The family dog and cat were killed, as were 17 horses trapped in a barn.

"The next day, we received an anonymous letter postmarked the day of the fire saying that the killing of the horses was justified to try to make a statement against the killing of the babies," Carhart said.

County workers bulldozed the rubble and destroyed any evidence before arson investigators arrived, and no one was arrested.

Carhart, who was at the Supreme Court for Wednesday's decision announcement, spoke publicly about the fire for the first time last February while addressing the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in Washington.

Carhart is one of only three doctors in Nebraska known to perform abortions, and he has maintained that the state ban was written in such a way that it could be used to outlaw all abortions.

"I'm willing to do this," Carhart said of his fight. "It has to be done. But I never conceived in the foggiest that I'd get involved in something this controversial or that this, in fact, would ever become this controversial."

Carhart now varies his daily routine as a safety precaution. Most mornings, protesters taunt him, his staff and patients as they enter the clinic, where he also has a general medical practice.

His clinic is not easy to find: Carhart works in a plain two-story building behind a gas station in a working-class neighborhood of Bellevue, Neb., an Omaha suburb surrounding Offutt Air Force Base. There is no sign on the clinic. The glass on the front door is painted brown.

Carhart, a New Jersey native, was stationed at Offutt before he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1985 and opened a practice. He is the only doctor in Nebraska known to perform abortions after the 16th week of pregnancy. He performs more than 1,200 abortions a year, of which he says about 20 involve the D&X procedure. The procedure is estimated to be used in one out of 1,800 abortions performed nationwide, yet it has become the rallying point of anti-abortion groups.

The Supreme Court had taken the Nebraska case because of contradictory rulings by federal appeals courts. One overruled the Nebraska law along with measures in Iowa and Arkansas, saying the laws were vague and too broad. Another upheld nearly identical laws in Illinois and Wisconsin.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad