The Fight of Their Lives

Dr. Warren Hern ranks high on the anti-abortionists' hit list. They're playing Ken Scott's song.

The plainclothes cops, their shoulder holsters bulging beneath suit coats, confer quietly with a knot of uniformed state troopers outside the old Supreme Court chambers. Here on the second floor of the State Capitol, the air is as heavy as the moment before a summer thunderstorm.

Mike Newell, Denver detective-turned-security-consultant, marches toward the officers. A specialist in "stalker suppression," his role this day is to guard the man who walks a few steps behind him.

Newell introduces his client, a trim man in a nicely tailored suit with a silk handkerchief; he is not wearing the bulletproof vest he had on the last time he visited the legislature. "This is Dr. Hern," Newell says, then produces a flier with the mug shot and vital statistics of Hern's adversary. "And this is Ken Scott. He's trying to get in. We have a permanent restraining order. He is not to be within a mile of the doctor."

Warren Hern stands just outside the circle of cops, in the shadows of a pillar, his mouth set in a tight, almost lipless line. He's well aware that some of the people wandering the halls, waiting for the hearing to start, wish him ill--or worse. Even his supporters often think of him as nothing more than a symbol. After all, he is an abortion doctor, a pariah even among those who stand by him on principle.

An abortion doctor has many enemies; Ken Scott is just the most recent--and the most persistent.

Scott's latest tactic was to file a lawsuit against Hern, asking $10 million and change for having him tossed into the Colorado Mental Health Institute for 41 days. His free-speech rights had been violated, Scott complained. But from the document, it is clear that what really riles Scott is that Hern obtained the restraining order while he was locked up.

"I don't give a fig for Ken Scott's First Amendment rights," Hern says, moving closer to Newell. "He doesn't respect anybody else's rights."

But Scott's right to speak is now the issue. The committee's chairman has insisted that Scott be allowed to testify about the abortion bill being considered that afternoon. Under Hern's restraining order, however, Scott cannot come within a mile of the Capitol while the doctor is in the building.

With Newell working as an intermediary and setting the parameters, Hern is persuaded to compromise: Hern will leave the building until after Scott testifies; then Scott will be escorted from the building by state troopers while Hern and Newell come in through another entrance.

Hern can be as obstinate as his opponents are intractable, and equally self-righteous. In this case, though, his concern may be warranted: Over two years ago Scott predicted the abortion doctor would soon be dead.

Warren Hern was born in Abilene, Kansas, in 1938. "My father was a carpenter, a superb artist and craftsman who probably never brought home more than $12,000 in a year," he says. "He was intelligent and opinionated. Both my parents were. Not educated, but smart.

"They didn't really know what education is. My father probably never had the faintest idea of what an advanced education does for the mind, but they knew it was important."

So important that the Herns, neither of whom had gone past high school, bought an encyclopedia for Warren when he was four. "It was called The Book of Knowledge," he recalls over fifty years later, sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Boulder. His back, as always these days, is against the wall.

"My mother would read it to me. Then there were piano lessons when I was six and clarinet lessons when I was eight--not an inconsiderable expense for a family that essentially lived from paycheck to paycheck."

Warren's folks were working-class people, good solid Methodists who attended church every Sunday and imparted a strong sense of social justice in their son and the two daughters who followed after the family moved to Colorado.

Still, young Warren was no crusader. In fact, he wanted to be a photographer. While a student at Englewood High School, he already was stringing for the Denver Post. Life's editors invited him to apply for a job at the magazine after he'd gained a little more experience. But it was another publication that changed the course of his life: a book about Albert Schweitzer.

As a young man, Schweitzer had vowed to live for art until he was thirty, then devote the rest of his life to serving humanity. True to his word, in 1905 he turned his back on music and theology--fields in which he'd already earned an international reputation--and began to study medicine. In 1913 he set up a hospital in French Equatorial Africa, where the Nobel Prize winner was still working when Hern read his autobiography.

Hern liked the idea of a discipline with so many facets. As a doctor, he could treat patients, or pursue scientific research, or both--either way, helping people lead better lives. And as a doctor, he would be a respected member of the community, one whose opinions mattered. So after graduating from high school in 1956, Hern enrolled at the University of Colorado as a pre-med student majoring in speech with minors in anthropology and chemistry.

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