This month, abortion rights opponents staged a demonstration in Germantown, Md. to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrival of Dr. Leroy Carhart, a physician who provides late term abortions. The clinic, as well as the owner of the building where Carhart provides the procedure, has been the focus of protests in the past year. Now, that building's owner says he's found a way to fight back.
Target of aggressive protests
This past September, a group of anti-abortion activists gathered outside of the Robert Frost middle school in Rockville. They'd been trying for months to get landlord Todd Stave to end his lease with the Reproductive Health Service Clinic, and Dr. Leroy Carhart. Stave refused and now activists were raising the stakes by picketing his daughter's school, during "back to school night."
"Not only did they have the graphic posters, but they also had a banner with my photograph, my phone number, my email address and something along the lines of 'stop the child killing.'"
That evening, Stave was approached by other parents at the school who were troubled by the protest, wanting to help. Stave says in the days following, he was inundated with phone calls from abortion rights opponents -- that's when he decided to turn the tables.
"And I gave them, the people who asked how they could help, specific instructions -- Call these people. Tell them, 'The Stave family thanks you for your prayers, we've heard your pleas, and no, we're not going to do anything about it.'"
From reaction to movement
Soon, the grassroots effort grew from 20 volunteers to an organization of 5,000 people called "Voice of Choice." Stave calls it a measured response to harassment he feels is wrong.
Jack Ames, the director of Defend Life, the group that organized the middle school protest, has received a phone call or two from Voice of Choice.
"We got a flurry of phone calls for a few weeks, but we're big people, we can take that, and people do have the right to exercise their First Amendment rights like we do," Ames says. "There's a lot of them making these phone calls to try to intimidate us, but it's not going to work. We're going to continue our efforts to expose Todd Stave."
Ames says he doubts Stave has gained any ground with his efforts. Stave hopes the unwanted attention will cause some activists to think about how their message is conveyed, he says.