OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska doctor who is one of few in the U.S. performing late-term abortions said Wednesday he wants to ensure more women have access to the procedure by expanding to states where it remains legal.
Dr. LeRoy Carhart said he wants to open new clinics near Washington D.C. and in Council Bluffs, Iowa, while expanding operations at his existing clinic in Bellevue, Neb. and at a clinic in Indianapolis to offer other reproductive medical treatments. Late-term abortions would be offered at the clinics in the Washington D.C. area and Council Bluffs, he said.
"There's certainly a need, and these areas are where the laws are favorable for us to do the practice that I need to do," Carhart said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Carhart's expansion plans trouble anti-abortion groups, but those groups also say his plans are a sure sign that Nebraska's new restrictions on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy are working.
"It's not something that we want to have happen in other states, but it's a call to pro-life groups in other states to pass this legislation," said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life. "Clearly, it's had an impact. We forced the late-term abortionist to take his business elsewhere."
Nebraska's new law is based on the idea that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks. The law departs from the standard of viability — generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks — established by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.
Carhart said he believes Nebraska's fetal pain law is unconstitutional, and this move to open new clinics is designed partly to help him withstand a prolonged court battle.
"Whatever it is, it's probably going to be a drawn-out thing, so I need to have a place where I can practice," he said.
Officials at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented Carhart in past legal battles over abortion, would only say that Nebraska's fetal pain law will be challenged when the circumstances are appropriate. Carhart has twice appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in past challenges of abortion laws.
Some anti-abortion leaders are skeptical that Carhart will achieve his goals. He has announced several plans to expand his practice since the shooting death of his friend, Dr. George Tiller, in 2009 in Wichita, Kan. Not all of those plans have come to fruition.
"It's something that I don't think is nearly feasible," Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said of Carhart's expansion plans.
Shortly after Tiller's death in May 2009, Carhart talked about opening a clinic in Kansas to carry on the late-term abortions he had helped Tiller offer before his death, but later said expanding his practice in the Omaha suburb of Bellevue was the best option. Now Carhart is planning these new clinics.
Carhart said Wednesday he has raised enough money to open the Washington D.C. area clinic, but he is still soliciting donations to help get the other clinics going. He said the Washington-area clinic will likely be in Maryland because that state's laws are favorable, but he declined to say Wednesday exactly what state that clinic will be in.
All three new clinics and Carhart's existing one in Bellevue would be called Carhart Centers for Sexual and Reproductive Health, and they would offer additional services besides abortion such as vasectomies and health screenings.
Around the same time Carhart plans to open his new Washington clinic in early December, the National Right to Life group will be holding a workshop for people interested in proposing legislation similar to Nebraska's fetal pain law in their states.
Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation trade group, said she expected abortion opponents would try to copy the Nebraska law, which she believes in unconstitutional. But she hopes anti-abortion groups will refrain from violence.
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