GERMANTOWN, Md. — During a frosty night graced by a Christmas carol, but not a hint of yuletide cheer, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., marked the first anniversary of LeRoy Carhart’s arrival at an abortion business in his diocese.
Far removed from the holiday activity on Capitol Hill, Cardinal Wuerl led a solemn candlelit procession and prayer vigil at a Germantown, Md., abortion facility, Reproductive Health Services, where Carhart began providing late-term abortions a year ago. The cardinal served as the chief celebrant for a Mass preceding the vigil at Mother Seton Catholic Church, located a few blocks from the business in this suburb north of the District of Columbia.
Organized by the Archdiocese of Washington, the three-hour Dec. 10 proceedings drew about 1,000 people, including pro-life activists who pray regularly at the facility and students from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
“Today, we are confronted with the evil of abortion on demand. It is almost inconceivable that in a society which calls itself ‘civilized’ it would be legal under the heading of ‘abortion’ to kill a perfectly healthy, almost full-term child. We should be appalled at how easily unborn human life is killed in this nation,” said Cardinal Wuerl during his homily.
The cardinal recalled a trip to a missionary hospital where a premature infant grabbed hold of his finger with surprising strength.
“Countless unborn infants are reaching out to hold on to us with all of their strength, since we are the only voice they have in their struggle to find a place, a home, a life in this world,” he told the congregation, drawing a parallel between past laws permitting slavery and the regime of legal abortion.
During his homily, Cardinal Wuerl affirmed the continuity of teaching from the radical witness of St. John the Baptist — the forerunner of Jesus Christ cited in the day’s Gospel reading — to the Church’s ongoing advancement of a culture of life.
“For some 20 centuries, the Church has carried on that mission, that same task. Each one of us has been called to be that voice, that witness,” he said.
Carhart is one of a handful of U.S. physicians willing to provide late-term abortions. Last year, after the state of Nebraska banned abortions after 20 weeks, he contracted with the Germantown business. In Maryland, it is legal to perform abortions through all nine months of pregnancy if it is determined that the mother’s health is threatened or her unborn child has been diagnosed with a birth defect.
In a July 24 article, The Washington Post reported that Carhart chose Maryland “because it has some of the least-restrictive abortion laws in the nation, is centrally located on the East Coast and because Germantown is accessible from three airports.” Carhart told the Post that he performs six to 10 late-term abortions every month, but “declines to specify how late.”
In the wake of Carhart’s arrival in Germantown, about 80 pro-life activists have congregated every Monday morning to pray as patients arrive for appointments.
“Late-term abortions are usually a three- or four-day procedure. Mondays are the day the baby dies, through a lethal injection administered to its heart. Afterward, they begin the dilation of the cervix, and the baby is delivered two days later,” said Christa Lopiccolo, the executive director of the Department of Life Issues for the Washington Archdiocese, who helped to organize the events marking Carhart’s arrival in Germantown.
“Many of the women coming in are in their second or third trimester, and some are visibly pregnant. They have decided to discontinue their pregnancy for a number of reasons,” she said.
The business was contacted to confirm the details of its services and declined to make any comment.
In general, a prenatal diagnosis cannot be confirmed before 16-18 weeks, though new tests for Down syndrome promise to accelerate the date when expectant mothers can receive difficult news about their unborn children’s medical condition. The Washington Archdiocese has collaborated with the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities to strengthen parish-based resources for parents facing these issues and educate pastors.
“Pressure on expectant mothers can increase as the pregnancy progresses. Some are in an abusive relationship with their boyfriend or husband, while teens in crisis pregnancies might be pressured by family members,” said Lopiccolo.
Carhart has stepped up security at the facility since his arrival in the Washington area just a year after his “mentor,” George Tiller, the physician who performed late-term abortions in Wichita, Kan., was shot dead in 2009.
700 in First Year
During the 2011 “Summer of Mercy” organized by Operation Rescue, 40 Days for Life and a slew of local pro-life activists, a series of protests were scheduled at the business, prompting a
counter-protest billed by abortion-rights activists as the “Summer of Choice.”
Last week, the Archdiocese of Washington also participated in a press conference with the Maryland Coalition for Life, pro-life groups and local churches, drawing about 1,500 protesters to the facility. Nearby, activists placed 700 crosses representing the estimated number of lives lost since Carhart began scheduling late-term abortions here.
During the Dec. 10 evening procession and prayer vigil, the mood was peaceful, if somber. At least one police car was parked nearby as protesters slowly recited the Rosary and sang a Marian hymn.
After reaching the business, the group prayed for Carhart’s conversion and for God’s mercy, completing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Then, during a moment of silence, the protesters stood or knelt on a patch of grass near the facility.
The cardinal offered a final blessing before he departed, and the protesters returned to Mother Seton Church for a second Rosary, followed by the minor-key carol, O Come Emmanuel, which echoed the faithful’s yearning for the Messiah’s return and the fulfillment of the gospel of life.
“We wanted to honor, recognize and memorialize the lives lost in the year that LeRoy Carhart arrived at the Germantown clinic. We also wanted to encourage and strengthen all those who have been out there every week praying for an end to the abortion practices there,” said Lopiccolo.
Gerry Mitchell, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda, Md., and a lawyer in the Washington metro area, came to the vigil with his wife, Germana. It was the second time he had prayed in front of the facility and the fourth time for her.
“I came because we are in the Advent season, and it’s a timely opportunity to protest the slaughtering of these innocent babies in the office of Carhart,” said Gerry Mitchell, a father of nine.
On that cold evening, he described the late-term abortions as “a re-enactment of the slaughtering of the Holy Innocents under King Herod.”
But he was also “inspired by the cardinal’s presence. We were accompanied by our bishop and by our pastor, Msgr. Edward Filardi,” Mitchell said, “and I am grateful they led us tonight.”
Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.