Abortion Doc Takes Risks for Strong View

Dr. Leroy Carhart, a Nebraskan who provides late-term abortions, is seen in the Dec. 4, 2009, broadcast of the "Evening News."
Dr. Leroy Carhart, a Nebraskan who provides late-term abortions, is seen in the Dec. 4, 2009, broadcast of the "Evening News."
CBS

Not every doctor takes a different route to work each day.

"Anything that's habit forming is deadly," Dr. Leroy Carhart told CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Most doctors also don't have a metal detector and bulletproof glass at his office. But Carhart is not every doctor.

"People out there want to kill us," Carhart told Axelrod.

A 68-year-old former Air Force surgeon, Carhart performs up to 3,500 abortions a year while activists protest at his clinic. He doesn't plan to stop.

"Until I can find someone else to care for women, they still need somebody to care for them," Carhart told Axelrod.

Carhart believes in his work and doesn't hide what goes on inside his clinic in Nebraska, but you may also find it a bit surprising given what happened to his close friend and colleague earlier this year.

When George Tiller was shot in his church last May, he was America's best known provider of late term abortions, those ending pregnancies after 22 weeks, a point when the fetus might survive outside the womb.

For more than a decade, Carhart spent a week each month assisting at Tiller's clinic.

"When he approached me to come work with him, he said, 'Both of us are very vulnerable targets and I think I need somebody else to carry on what I'm doing,'" Carhart told Axelrod.

After Tiller's death Carhart started doing late-term abortions at his own clinic, on average one every 10 days.

Carhart says about half the abortions he performs between the 22nd and 28th week are due to fetal health issues. Half are for the mother's mental health. After the 28th week, 90 percent of the abortions he performs are for fetal health.

Women like Sue, an unmarried 28-year-old mother of three, come from around the country. Sue's somewhere between 21 and 23 weeks pregnant. She's aborting because she put her last baby up for adoption and had a nervous breakdown. She's waited so long because she didn't have the money.

"At this point this is the easier decision for me," Sue told Axelrod. "That may sound selfish to a lot of people, but I am having a lot of complications that aren't good for my health."

"Which I think is probably a rational choice on her part," Carhart told Axelrod.

"A rational choice?" Axelrod asked.

"Yes; I mean she went through it," Carhart said. "She already knows the amount of trauma she went through with the last child."

"So you wouldn't have any problem performing an abortion on her?" Axelrod asked.

"No, certainly not at 21 weeks," Carhart said.

"Is Dr. Carhart going to hell?" Axelrod asked.

"I don't know," anti-abortion rights activist Larry Donlan said. "It does not look good."

While not all of his strongest critics condone violence, Carhart is nothing short than evil to them, even if what he is doing is perfectly legal.

"It was the law of the land to round up Jews in Germany and gas them," Donlan told Axelrod. "It was the law of the land to make black people slaves."

The lines are clearly drawn and Leroy Carhart stopped trying to change his critics' minds a long time ago.

"I totally believe in this cause every bit as much as I believe every morning when I got up in the military that I was doing the right thing," Carhart told Axelrod. "If dying for this cause is what I have to do, then that's what I will do."

In fact, the only thing for now that will change is the route he takes to work.

Correction: This story was updated on Dec. 7, 2009, to amend a quote that was incorrectly attributed to Dr. Carhart.

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    Alex Sundby

    Alex Sundby is an associate news editor for CBSNews.com