Friday, March 30, 2012

A Clinic’s Landlord Turns the Tables on Anti-Abortion Protesters

Regardless of how you feel about abortion, the way Todd Stave flipped the script on his bullies is pretty dang clever.

Stave is the landlord of a clinic in Germantown that provides abortions. Reproductive Health Services became the focus of antiabortion protesters when it was leased to LeRoy Carhart, one of the few doctors in the nation who acknowledges performing late-term abortions.

There are always protesters outside the office park where the clinic is located, quietly praying or holding vigil, with signs, rosaries, statues of Mary and posters of mangled fetuses.

“Totally appropriate. It’s their right,” Stave told me this week. “They are protected by the First Amendment. And outside the clinic is probably the most appropriate place for them to express their views.”

The abortion conflict has become a way of life for Stave. He’s not just a landlord. The clinic was operated by his father, who was a doctor. Then his sister managed it.

“I’ve been a member of this fight since Roe v. Wade, since I was 5 years old,” he said. The office was firebombed when he was a kid, and protesters gathered outside the family home as he was growing up. So he’s no stranger to the harassment and bullying of doctors and their families.

It has become routine for protesters to distribute fliers and create Web sites that supply personal information about doctors and encourage others to badger them. Kansas doctor George Tiller was killed in 2009, and the farm of his protege, Carhart, was burned to the ground in 1991.

The tactical decision to focus on a clinic’s landlord was a clever move, although Stave could handle it. He’s pretty tough after all the years in this fight.

But his tormentors crossed the line last fall when a big group showed up at his daughter’s middle school on the first day of classes and again at back-to-school night. They had signs displaying his name and contact information as well as those gory images of the fetuses.

“What parent wants to have that conversation with an 11-year-old on the first day of school?” he fumed.

Soon after that, the harassing calls started coming to his home. By the dozens, at all hours. Friends asked him how they could help. He began to take down the names and phone numbers of people who made unwanted calls. And he gave the information to his friends and asked them to call these folks back.

“In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers,” he said. “They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women’s rights.”

This started with a dozen or so friends, and then it grew. Soon, more than a thousand volunteers were dialing.

If they could find the information, Stave’s supporters would ask during the callbacks how the children in the family were doing and mention their names and the names of their schools. “And then,” Stave said, “we’d tell them that we bless their home on such and such street,” giving the address.

The family of a protester who called Stave’s home could get up to 5,000 calls in return.