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Target of Maryland abortion protesters turns tables on them

Saying that his family has been harassed, a clinic landlord gathers volunteers to call the activists at their homes.

May 27, 2012|By Alison Knezevich
  • Todd Stave, landlord of a building that houses an abortion clinic in Germantown, Md., has been targeted by anti-abortion activists.
Todd Stave, landlord of a building that houses an abortion clinic in Germantown,… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )

— — ROCKVILLE, Md. The fliers first showed up in March, dropped on doorsteps of the big homes in Todd Stave's quiet cul-de-sac. They compared him to a Nazi.

Two months later and 50 miles away, new anti-abortion leaflets appeared in another peaceful suburban subdivision where Stave's in-laws lived. Bearing the same bloody images, the leaflets asked neighbors to pray for the family and to call or visit their home. Protesters also showed up at his daughter's middle school.

Stave, 44, son of a doctor who performed abortions and whose office was once firebombed, decided to fight back. Targeted because he rents an office to one of the nation's best-known abortion practitioners, he turned the tables, gathering volunteers to call abortion protesters at home.

He calls the fliers distributed in his in-laws' neighborhood "a new low."

"This is an attempt to embarrass my in-laws, who have no more control over the clinic than you do," he wrote in a recent email to his group, Voice of Choice, which contacts abortion protesters by phone, email and social media.

Leaders of two organizations that have led the fight against Reproductive Health Services in Germantown say they are not responsible for the fliers.

"I'm not going sit here and say this was a good thing to do, or a bad thing," said Michael Martelli, head of the Maryland Coalition for Life. "We're dealing with the killing of innocent people, so it's important to keep that in perspective. Some people are going to go to different lengths because of that."

The clinic's only physician,Dr. LeRoy Carhart, is a former colleague ofDr. George Tiller, the Kansas doctor murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in 2009.

Carhart's arrival in December 2010 sparked outrage from anti-abortion activists, but Stave says he wasn't a target at first.

Carhart, who performs both early- and late-term abortions, said he picked Maryland for his practice "because the community is very pro-choice." He travels there from his home in Nebraska, which banned late-term abortions in 2010.

In the summer of 2011, activists learned that Stave owned the building. His father had started the clinic, and his sister now owns it.

When Stave was 16, extremists firebombed his father's College Park office. Still, Stave, an entrepreneur in the electronics industry, had never been involved in the abortion-rights movement. That was his father's issue, he said. "It wasn't my fight."

His attitude changed last fall when activists showed up at his 12-year-old daughter's middle school.

The initial protest happened on the first day of school, but there was no mention of Stave's name. Ten days later, though, protesters showed up at back-to-school night with a banner bearing Stave's picture and his home phone number.

Martelli said his group did not support the school rally but that, in his eyes, Stave "is really not any different than LeRoy Carhart."

The Maryland Coalition for Life formed in response to Carhart's arrival. After they discovered that Stave owned the building, they launched a letter and phone campaign to press him to stop renting to Carhart, Martelli said.

Stave said he decided to respond after the school incident, when "they started attacking my family."

Voice of Choice now has thousands of supporters. Stave won't say how he finds the personal information of the people his group calls.

Carhart said he's grateful.

"Somebody needed to make [opponents of abortion] own their idiocy, and he's the first person in the country, really, that's had the brains and the intelligence and the ability to do that," he said.

Jack Ames, director of the group Defend Life, said he has gotten a few calls from Voice of Choice.

"The Voice of Choice people have a right to do that," he said. "I would defend their right to do that."

Ames called the recent fliers "perfectly acceptable" but said his group wasn't responsible for them.

"Whoever did that, I think they were doing a great favor for Todd Stave's in-laws," Ames said. "Just in case they didn't know exactly how he was making a living."

Stave says that his work has given pause to many protesters, and that people have realized that those who continue to harass his family "are on the fringe."

"It doesn't matter whether you are for or against abortion," he said. "Nobody wants protests in front of their middle school. Nobody wants Nazi fliers distributed in their neighborhood."

aknezevich@tribune.com

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