While a crowd massed in the freezing wind Monday to protest Dr. LeRoy Carhart in front of a bank of TV cameras and a host of reporters, a different scene played out inside the warm, comfortable clinic where the physician spent his first day providing services in Germantown, Maryland.
Inside, all was calm. Dr. Carhart welcomed patients with a friendly and assuring smile. The clinic staff went through their routine calmly and professionally. And Reverend Carlton Veazey – the president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – talked to a young woman about the decision she had made as something very private, which involved her own circumstances and beliefs and her hopes for the future.
Others in the cozy waiting room listened intently – on one side, the patient’s mother and father and across the room, a young man and his partner who were holding each other. The patient’s mother was a woman of faith and she shook her head in agreement with Reverend Veazey, knowing that the crowd outside, in front of the cameras, had nothing to do with the reality of her daughter’s abortion decision.
Reverend Veazey talked about those such as the individuals holding the press conference who want to pass laws that would force others to abide by their beliefs. The patient’s mother again agreed, knowing that her daughter was doing what was best for herself, given her own life and hopes. She fully understood that religious liberty means the freedom – and right – to live according to one’s own beliefs, with respect for the dignity of others.
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Clergy who are active with RCRC joined RCRC staff at the protest to demonstrate a religious presence in support of abortion rights and of Dr. Carhart, a former RCRC Board member. We had to be there, because the protest was framed as a “Christian” event and we needed to demonstrate that millions of Christians, Jews and others are pro-choice. As Alex McNeill, a Presbyterian and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who is RCRC’s development director, told Fox News: “Problem pregnancies happen. I believe that God walks with us, even in dark and hard times and gives us the freedom to choose.”
The press conference was held by a man named Reverend Patrick Mahoney, who is a professional anti-abortion activist. I’ve run into him a few times – once at the 2004 Democratic convention, where he brought young women who had had an abortion to stand on the street and harangue delegates about abortion, and another time at a Planned Parenthood clinic, where he knelt in prayer, almost – but not quite – blocking the entrance (although he had gotten the day wrong and there were no abortion patients there). When I introduced myself yesterday, shortly after he arrived, he immediately launched into a verbal attack of Dr. Carhart and of me for supporting Dr. Carhart in providing needed services, including to women who needed a later-term procedure for serious medical reasons.
Patrick Mahoney does not listen and does not care about the facts. He has declared all-out war on Dr. Carhart. His tone of anger contrasts starkly to his claims to be peaceful and prayerful . There is a great danger in confusing what he says with what others hear. Mahoney is not himself inciting violence, but he is tacitly giving permission to act to persons who are violent. We who believe in human rights must speak out at every opportunity to educate people about why women have a later-term abortion and why we must protect that right.