In the wake of George Tiller’s murder, I’ve been pondering the incongruity of his providing the most controversial abortion services in Kansas, of all places – a solidly conservative state. He’s not the only one. Dr. LeRoy Carhart – of Gonzales v. Carhart fame – practices in Nebraska. He too offers late-term abortions, including past the point of fetal viability when warranted. (Carhart has offered to take over Tiller’s clinic, but Tiller’s family says the clinic’s fate remains uncertain. Plus one wonders what Carhart’s patients would do.) Then there’s Dr. Warren Hern in Boulder, Colorado. It’s Hern who said, “The main difference between the American anti-abortion movements and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.” All three of these men knew each other and were friends.
Are there more American doctors willing to perform third-trimester abortions? These names are familiar because Carhart and Hern have been talking to the press these past few days. There may be others, but I googled like crazy trying to find them, and I failed. (“Like crazy,” because I actually tried to find the Army of God’s hitlist online. No dice. Thankfully!) I wouldn’t blame any doctor who wanted to stay under the radar. After all, as Dr. Hern said (via DailyKos): “I am next on the list.”
Plenty of others have already observed that the killing of Dr. Tiller greatly reduces the number of doctors who are able and willing to perform these very late abortions. (A larger number will perform the procedure up to 24 months weeks.) Others have also remarked that these third-trimester abortions are virtually always tragic: a much-loved and anticipated child suffers from severe hydrocephalus or has other anomalies that will doom her to painful short life and an early death.
What I’m wondering is this: Why does the heartland seem to spawn these pragmatic yet idealistic doctors? Tiller and Carhart come from Kansas and Nebraska. They are constantly embattled – not just by vandals but by the court system, aka the Will of the People. Hern shares his home state with the main campus of Focus on the Family. Why do they persist despite hostile geography? Where are their blue-state equivalents? If you go back to the early days of underground abortion resistance in the 1960s, big cities like New York and Chicago led the way. Why must a woman with a disastrously impaired fetus now travel from a coastal city to Wichita?
I don’t have any answers. I think a Midwestern work ethic may play into it. Surely you’ve got to be mule-stubborn to carry on in the face of harsh local and national opposition. You’ve also got to believe in the cause more than your own life, but Midwesterners haven’t cornered that market. It’s not even that Kansas has especially lax laws; a late-term abortion requires the assent of a second physician. Partly, I think Tiller and his colleagues were moved by plain old practicality – there’s a job and someone’s gotta do it – mixed with compassion for women’s sufferings.
I’d love to know if any of you has a more coherent theory on the geography of third-trimester abortion providers.