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Originally published Monday, March 15, 2010 at 5:09 PM

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After Tiller's death, N.M. doctor offers late-term abortions

Last year, after Kansas abortion provider George Tiller was murdered in church, his supporters worried about what would happen to ...

Los Angeles Times

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Last year, after Kansas abortion provider George Tiller was murdered in church, his supporters worried about what would happen to the hundreds of women who sought late-term abortions each year at Tiller's clinic, which was closed after his death.

Some physicians are quietly stepping forward.

Curtis Boyd, an Albuquerque doctor, recently announced on his Web site that, in response to Tiller's death, he has begun performing third-trimester abortions. Boyd, 72, also announced that he has hired two California physicians, Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella, who used to work with Tiller on a rotating basis.

"Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors in the United States who provided late-term abortions to women with severe fetal abnormalities or maternal health indications," said a statement on Boyd's Web site. "Appointments for late abortions are now available."

Boyd, Robinson and Sella declined interview requests. All have been targets of vitriolic attacks on anti-abortion Web sites.

After Tiller was murdered by Scott Roeder, who faces sentencing April 1, the National Abortion Federation began asking members who already provide second-trimester abortions to consider extending their practices to include third-trimester abortions.

NAF President Vicki Saporta would not say how many besides Boyd agreed. "If I give you a number and you print it, the people who want to do these people harm will get all over the Internet and try to figure out who these people might be and how to target them," said Saporta.

The Rev. Stephen Imbarrato, president of Project Defending Life in Albuquerque, said he received a call last week from Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, the Wichita anti-abortion group that dedicated itself to putting Tiller out of business.

"He wanted to discuss with me, at some point in time, what we're doing in terms of prayer vigils and bringing attention to Curtis Boyd," Imbarrato said.

A small fraction of the 1.2 million women who have abortions each year seek them after the first trimester, and only a tiny fraction seek abortions in the third trimester.

In its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, the Supreme Court said states cannot limit a woman's right to abortion before fetal viability, which is now generally considered to be in the 23rd or 24th week of pregnancy. After viability, states can impose regulations, but they must allow abortions to preserve a woman's life or health, including her mental health.

Boyd is an ordained Baptist minister who later became a Unitarian. In a 2008 speech, he explained why he is an abortion doctor:

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"In my generation, many of the doctors of conscience who chose to provide abortions were moved by the horrors of botched illegal abortions. But that was not what drove me to risk my career and sometimes my life. I was moved by the certain knowledge that women's lives could be ruined when they could not abort a pregnancy."

Boyd's clinic, Southwest Women's Options, is a one-story stucco building on a busy street near downtown Albuquerque.

The property is unfenced, unlike Tiller's Wichita clinic, which eventually took on the appearance of a bunker after violent incidents by anti-abortion extremists, including a firebombing and attempted murder.

Saporta said NAF helps its members with security and works with law enforcement. "We make sure they treat criminal activity as criminal activity, not as free speech when laws are being violated and people are being threatened."

Officer Rob Gibbs, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said he was not aware of any consultations with the department regarding security for Boyd's clinic.

Disruptive anti-abortion protests, said Gibbs, are out of character for Albuquerque, a relatively liberal community. "There's more anti-war demonstrators than there are anti-abortion demonstrators," he said.

On Dec. 6, 2007, Boyd's former office, half a mile from its current location, suffered extensive smoke damage after it was set afire. That office had been picketed by abortion foes on occasion. Two men pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of conspiracy to commit arson. The attorney for one described the fire-setting as an "emotional crime" resulting from a decision by his ex-girlfriend to terminate her pregnancy.

Joan Sanford of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice said that she alerted her members to the change in Boyd's practice. In a recent newsletter, she asked members to open their homes to Boyd's out-of-town patients.

"I have been impressed with his compassion for women and for families," Sanford said. "We all know what the risks are for any provider."

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