GERMANTOWN, Md. —Maryland emerged as the new front for an old battle on Monday, as Nebraska-based physician LeRoy Carhart began offering late-term abortions in the face of protests from anti-abortion activists.
Last week's announcement that Carhart would begin providing the procedure at Germantown Reproductive Health Services sparked a flurry of activity among national and local anti-abortion activists, who gathered near the clinic's office park to stage a demonstration and prayer vigil.
"We will work to ensure that Maryland does not become the late-term abortion capital of America," said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, executive director of the Christian Defense Coalition, which organized the protest with Kansas-based Operation Rescue.
Mahoney and other speakers called for state legislative action to tighten rules on abortions and ban late-term abortions. Such procedures, they said, often take place after "viability," or when a fetus may survive outside the womb, a murky but central concept in the fight over abortion regulations.
Monday's protest also featured local religious leaders and speakers from conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council, and organizers have launched a website devoted to ousting Carhart from the state.
Carhart's move to practice in Germantown has refocused the attention of the national anti-abortion movement on Maryland, considered by both sides in the debate to be one of the most liberal states when it comes to regulating the procedure.
The state had one of the country's highest abortion rates in 2005, according to the Guttenmacher Institute, a New York-based reproductive health think tank, and was the only state in the Southern region to see its abortion rate increase between 2000 and 2005.
The Rev. Derek McCoy, of the Maryland Family Alliance, said the current state law on abortion made Maryland one of the most "pro-abortion states in the country."
The law allows no restrictions on abortions until fetal viability. Later abortions are allowed if the health of the mother is at stake or if the fetus is grossly deformed.
A litigant in two major Supreme Court cases concerning so-called "partial-birth" abortions, Carhart is also notable for speaking publicly on his willingness to provide late-term abortions.
Carhart inherited a role as the nation's most well-known abortion doctor after the 2009 shooting death of Wichita doctor George Tiller. Carhart practiced at Tiller's clinic.
Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, of which the Germantown facility is a member, said Carhart will perform abortions through the second trimester of pregnancy in Germantown.