- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pro-life advocates in Maryland, Iowa and Indiana are pushing back with rallies and talk of more restrictive legislation as one of the nation’s most prominent late-term abortion doctors works to expand his practice in all three states.

Don Dwyer Jr., a Republican member of Maryland’s House of Delegates from Anne Arundel County, said this week that he was talking with other pro-life lawmakers about more restrictive legislation in the wake of Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s decision to establish an office this week in the Germantown Reproductive Health Services clinic in suburban Montgomery County.

Mr. Dwyer told Southern Maryland Online that the purpose of the talks was to produce a bill “to regulate abortion clinics as they do in many other states.” The next session of the Maryland General Assembly begins Jan. 11.

Separately, the Archdiocese of Washington said it is expecting hundreds of Catholics to participate in a Mass and processional walk Saturday to oppose Dr. Carhart’s new practice.

“Obviously, what Carhart brings to Maryland is not what women in a crisis pregnancy need,” said Kathy Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Catholic Conference. The rally will begin at Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, a half-mile from the clinic.

Mr. Dwyer’s efforts are being matched this week in Iowa and Indiana, where pro-life legislators signaled their intent to draft bills to ban late-term abortions in their states.

They said they will be looking closely at Nebraska’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which forbids abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation because a fetus of that age can feel pain.

The pro-life National Right to Life held a strategy conference this week in Arlington, Va., to offer its state affiliates guidance for the 2011 legislative session. Along with Maryland, Indiana and Iowa, state lawmakers are drafting bills along the lines of the Nebraska statute in Kentucky, Kansas and Oklahoma.

“What Nebraska did was fantastic,” Margie Montgomery, the executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, told the Associated Press. “That makes us more excited about it. Now we can point to it — it’s already a law in Nebraska.”

This “fetal pain” law is viewed as the main reason Dr. Carhart, who has performed late-term abortions in Omaha for years, decided to seek other locations for his services.

“We need a place where we can [treat] our patients without the harassment of the courts,” Dr. Carhart told KETV in Nebraska in November, when he announced his expansion plans.

Dr. Carhart has not been a stranger to media coverage — his lawsuits over late-term abortion have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court — but his news presence has soared since his good friend, Dr. George Tiller of Kansas, was fatally gunned down while in church in May 2009.

Tiller also performed late-term abortions. After his death, Tiller’s family closed his Wichita clinic.

Dr. Carhart pledged to carry on such services, and pro-choice groups have rallied to make sure he is able to train doctors as well as offer the services himself.

At a pro-life rally Monday in Germantown, members of the pro-choice Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice quietly protested the pro-life messages. Also, National Abortion Federation leaders have been offering security training to staff members at the Germantown clinic.

“We are confident that the people of Maryland will support Dr. Carhart and the women he serves,” Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Jenny Blasdell, executive director of the pro-choice group’s Maryland branch, said in a joint statement. “Marylanders will oppose any efforts to make their state the home of the anti-choice threats and intimidation like we have seen in Kansas and Nebraska.”

Dr. Carhart told Southern Maryland Online on Wednesday that the pro-life demonstrations have not dampened activities at the clinic and that Maryland was “a perfect place” for his services.

Lawmakers in all three states are likely to face uphill battles in their efforts to outlaw late-term abortions because of opposition from their pro-choice colleagues and because state unemployment and budget crises will dominate the sessions.

In Iowa, Republicans have taken over the state House of Representatives, while Democrats control the Senate.

State Rep. Matt Windschitl, a member of the new Republican majority leadership team in the Iowa House, plans to introduce a bill that will “ban late-term abortions” and “stand up in court challenges.” The bill probably will be similar to the Nebraska fetal-pain law, but take a slightly different approach, he said in an interview Wednesday.

In Iowa, there’s a groundswell of support to “keep Carhart out,” said Jenifer Bowen, executive director of the Iowa Right to Life.

In Indiana, where Republicans control both legislative chambers, state Sen. Greg Walker and state Rep. Wes Culver have circulated a letter discussing the need for a law that bans abortions after 20 weeks.

Indiana lawmakers will be urged “to follow Nebraska’s lead” by adopting similar legislation in the 2011 session, said Mike Fichter, president and chief executive of Indiana Right to Life.

In Maryland, pro-life forces face a legislature led by Democrats, most of whom are pro-choice.

Maryland’s abortion law is “very permissive” — it requires a licensed physician to perform the abortion “and that’s it,” said Jeffrey Meister, director of administration and legislation for Maryland Right to Life.

The organization’s leaders are assembling a legislative agenda, but it may or may not include a fetal-pain bill, said Mr. Meister. The overall goal, he added, is to “change the culture” in Maryland “so it won’t be such a haven for abortion providers.”

In addition to legislative pressure, pro-life advocates in Maryland have pledged to hold prayer vigils and alert neighboring businesses about their unhappiness with Dr. Carhart’s presence at the Germantown clinic.

“We will work to ensure that Maryland doesn’t become the late-term abortion capital of America,” the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, leader of the Christian Defense Coalition, said at the Monday rally, which coincided with Dr. Carhart’s first day at the clinic.

Late-term abortion, sometimes called partial-birth abortion, is controversial because it involves the termination of a fetus that might be able to survive outside the womb.

In a 2008 report, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that in 2001, there were 18,400 abortions that occurred at 21 weeks’ gestation or later.

Pro-life organizations maintain that, based on these numbers, there are many doctors who perform late-term abortions. Pro-choice groups say there is a need for more health care professionals who can perform these complicated procedures.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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