Why Esquire's Abortion Story Got It Wrong

Those sentences, from this month's issue of Esquire, introduce the magazine's profile of late-term abortion provider Warren Hern. They're surprising and intriguing, the beginning of a story I definitely want to read. But unfortunately, they're not true. Warren Hern is not the country's last late-term abortion doctor.

I know this because I've spent the last three months profiling another late-term abortion provider, LeRoy Carhart. Carhart used to work in the clinic of George Tiller, the late-term provider murdered in May, and is now training other abortion doctors in late-term procedures. I don't see how Carhart wouldn't be counted among the country's late-term specialists: he operates in the second and third trimester, worked at Tiller's clinic for more than a decade, and is trying to open a new late-term clinic in the Midwest.

How many other late-term abortion providers exist? It is, admittedly, a very small number and a difficult one to pin down. The Guttmacher Institute's most recent survey of clinics found that 8 percent operate up through the 24th week, but its statistics stop there. Carhart says he knows of six doctors who work in the third trimester. He would not give me their names—most, understandably, keep a low profile when it comes to their work. But a representative of an abortion-advocacy group (who did not wish to be identified commenting on a controversial procedure) confirmed that there were a handful of doctors operating in the third trimester. A Colorado newspaper recently published a correction after identifying Hern as the only late-term provider. "The notion that Dr. Warren Hern is the last remaining late-abortion provider in America is not accurate, according to reproductive health experts," it read.

These inaccurate descriptions are, in a sense, not entirely surprising: Hern is a high-profile doctor who publicly describes himself as "the only doctor in the world," after Tiller's death, to do these abortions. And Hern does see patients whom Carhart currently would not. (As I explain in my story, Carhart bases his practice on a conservative interpretation of Nebraska law and will only operate in the late term when another physician has declared the fetus unable to live more than momentarily outside the womb.) But to say he's the last late-term provider or specialist is just not true. Accuracy always matters in journalism, and never more so than when writing about such a sensitive and controversial subject. Late-term abortion is indeed rare and difficult to obtain, but it is available outside of a clinic in Boulder.