Split in the Ranks

Abortion doctor Warren Hern is used to seeing protesters outside his Boulder clinic. He just doesn't expect them to come from the pro-choice ranks.

In April, Bill Baird, a nationally known abortion-rights activist, and Margie Wait, the Colorado state director of American Atheists, picketed Hern's Boulder Abortion Clinic. They claimed that Hern had "aided and abetted the enemy" by appearing as an expert witness in an Arkansas lawsuit filed against an abortion doctor by a militant anti-abortion group called Life Dynamics.

Baird was cited for trespassing by Boulder police (who were summoned to the scene by Hern) when he tried to present the physician with a "Benedict Arnold Traitor Award." Baird and Wait have been peppering the media with "evidence" of Hern's transgressions ever since.

It appears that this spat is the result of bad blood between Hern and Baird. Last fall Hern was invited to speak at a Denver convention of the American Humanists. He agreed, with the proviso that there not be any publicity or attempts to generate confrontations with anti-abortion activists.

In February Baird called Hern and told him that he, too, had been invited to speak. Hern, who has known Baird for thirty years, says, "For the past fifteen years, all he wants are confrontations. He wants to be a martyr; he wants to get shot."

Hern called the American Humanists and withdrew as a speaker. "Within hours I was getting faxes from people accusing me of censorship," he says. "But I'm the one who has to live and work here...I didn't need the crazies stirred up any more than they already are."

Then Baird learned of Hern's involvement more than a year earlier in a malpractice lawsuit against Curtis Stover, the medical director of Little Rock Family Planning Services. The lawsuit had been filed by an attorney for Life Dynamics on behalf of one of Stover's patients who had complications following an abortion.

The attorney contacted Hern, who wrote the book on abortion-clinic practices, and asked for his opinion. "I said that mistakes had been made," Hern concedes. "But the crazy thing is, I said the problem was more with the hospital than the doctor...The patient was okay; I thought they should settle."

But Stover found out about Hern's involvement and, says Hern, "went on the warpath." He complained in a letter to other abortion providers that Hern had appeared as a consultant for Life Dynamics, which, he said, "attacks abortion providers with frivolous lawsuits, causing providers to spend a great amount of money in useless litigation and to make the physicians uninsurable."

Because of Hern's involvement, Stover wrote, "I have to fight not only our usual enemies, but one of our own people." Hern serves on the National Abortion Federation's advisory committee.

Then Baird took up the cudgel against Hern. Among the material circulated by Wait and Baird was a letter to Baird from Southern Tier Women's Services in New York, where Baird is located, condemning Hern for appearing on behalf of Life Dynamics. The letter urged the NAF to rescind Hern's membership, a move endorsed at the NAF convention by the Feminist Caucus.

Wait says she was told by Baird last week that the NAF won't take action against Hern. "Dr. Hern is intimidating everyone," Wait says. "He says he's going to sue."

But Hern says he has been attacked repeatedly at NAF meetings. "There's a purge going on," says Hern, who concedes that he has accepted fees as a medical consultant "for a wide variety of people. It's a matter of economic freedom."

Wait says she was shocked when Baird told her about Hern's actions on behalf of Life Dynamics. "I said, 'But he's one of ours,'" she recalls.

Indeed, it would seem an odd situation for Hern, one of the most vehement detractors of the anti-abortion forces, to take money from Life Dynamics to appear as a court witness. The doctor, who for twenty years has been picketed, threatened and stalked by abortion foes ("Uncivil Wars," February 13) and has been under the protection of the U.S. Marshal's office several times, considers all anti-abortion activists potential assassins. There's no such thing as a good or well-meaning anti-abortion protester, he has told Westword.

Hern is currently being sued for $10 million by anti-abortion activist Ken Scott, who claims that the doctor conspired with Boulder County authorities to have him committed to the Colorado Mental Health Institute. Hern had complained that Scott was stalking him and planned to harm him.

The American Civil Liberties Union has come to Hern's defense, arguing that Scott's lawsuit is an attempt to stop Hern from speaking out about the dangers represented by anti-abortion forces.

Hern says Baird has made the Stover case "his new cause" because of the perceived slight over the American Humanist Convention. "Now it's me," Hern says with disgust. "Not the Christian Coalition. Not the Republicans. Me...because I'm willing to tell the truth."

Although the accusations highlight a crack in the usual solidarity of the pro-choice movement, in reality the protest by Baird and Wait was something of a non-event. They were the only two to show up, first at a Denver Catholic church and then at Hern's clinic.

"I tried to get people to come, but it's hard to get anyone out on a weekday," Wait explains.

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