OMAHA, Neb. - LeRoy Carhart wants to continue providing third-term abortions after the assassination of his friend and colleague George Tiller, but the Nebraska doctor does not have anywhere to perform them - and he is one of only a handful of providers who will.
Tiller's Wichita, Kan., clinic was shuttered after the 67-year-old was gunned down at his church Sunday. His family said yesterday it was unsure when the clinic would reopen.
Carhart, 67, is one of a few doctors in the United States who still perform third-trimester abortions. It is uncertain if a new generation of providers will take over.
Schools and universities do not offer many programs to train physicians on how to perform the procedure, and Carhart said younger doctors who might be interested in stepping forward were afraid they or their families would be harmed.
Yesterday, Kansas authorities charged Scott Roeder, 51, with first-degree murder in Tiller's death.
Roeder, shown via a video link from Sedgwick County Jail, said "OK" three times as Judge Ben Burgess read the charges. Burgess ordered Roeder to be held without bond and told him he would be given a public defender.
If convicted, Roeder would face a life sentence and not be eligible for parole for at least 25 years. Kansas law requires that special circumstances - such as a murder for hire - exist for a defendant to face the death penalty.
"Dr. Tiller and I and all our friends know that tomorrow is never a given," Carhart said in an interview. "I think what we have to do is not let this loss of his life affect our goals in life, No. 1, and we need to do things so he's never forgotten."
Carhart, a vocal abortion-rights advocate who has for years been at the epicenter of the debate on what abortion foes call partial-birth abortions, first met Tiller more than 20 years ago and began working at the Wichita clinic a decade ago.
He said he traveled to Kansas for a few days every third week. He performs third-term abortions in Kansas only at Tiller's clinic.
Carhart drew national protests from abortion opponents after he filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which prohibited a method of late-stage abortion called "intact dilation and extraction," in which the fetus is removed largely intact but its skull is crushed.
His case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the law in 2007. At the time, Carhart said the ruling "opened the door to an all-out assault on" the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The former Air Force surgeon operates his own clinic, Abortion & Contraception Clinic of Nebraska, in a nondescript building in a working-class neighborhood of Bellevue, an Omaha suburb. But he said he did not perform abortions past the 22d week of pregnancy there.
"Nebraska state law is based on viability. Nobody has defined that," he said.
More than 820,000 abortions were performed in this country in 2005, according to the most recent available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fewer than 2 percent of abortions occur at 21 weeks of pregnancy or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health think tank.
It isn't known how many are done in the third trimester, but Carhart said 75 to 100 of the "several thousand" abortions he performs annually are in the third trimester.
With Tiller's death, there are fewer than 10 doctors who perform third-trimester abortions in the United States, Carhart estimated.
He told a news conference yesterday that he would be willing to train younger doctors but that few want to put themselves and their families at risk.