Todd Stave has the unenviable position of being the landlord of a building in Germantown, Maryland, which he leases to an abortion provider called Reproductive Health Services Clinic. So he knows a little something about dealing patiently with anti-abortion protesters. But when they started calling him at home at all hours and harassing his family, he got fed up and came up with a very clever solution: Do unto others as they have been doing unto you.
Problems really began for Stave at the end of 2010, when he leased his building to LeRoy Carhart, one of the only doctors in the U.S. who openly acknowledges that he performs late-term abortions. As you can imagine, he's a controversial man, and protesters come from far and wide. There is a constant group of them parked outside, praying and holding up signs, many of which have pictures of mangled fetuses. That's pretty much a landlord's nightmare, and yet Stave has a very calm attitude about it. He told Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post this week,
It's their right. They are protected by the First Amendment. And outside the clinic is probably the most appropriate place for them to express their views.
If you're wondering how Stave can remain so relaxed about the situation, he explains, "I've been a member of this fight since Roe v. Wade. Since I was 5 years old." You see, the clinic used to belong to his father, and then his sister ran it. When he was younger, the office was firebombed, and protesters were often gathered outside his dad's house. So he's used to a certain level of harassment and he'll tolerate it — but only up to a point. And recently, the usually calm, cool, and collected Stave was pushed to his limit.
It's common practice for anti-abortion protesters to disseminate doctors' personal information and urge people to harass them—and it can clearly go far beyond that, as with the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. LeRoy Carhart, who's now in Stave's clinic, had his Nebraska farm burned to the ground back in 1991. But protesters in Maryland figured out they could start targeting Stave for owning the clinic's property. He was largely unfazed by this campaign, until last fall when they took it too far. On his daughter's first day in middle school, a large group of people protested outside her school, and then they showed up again for back-to-school night. They were naturally carrying signs with his name and contact info and those nasty pictures of fetuses.
Stave was furious, and then it got even worse. Dozens of the protestors began calling him at home, around the clock. His friends wanted to help him fight back; that's when Stave had the brilliant idea of turning the tables on his tormentors. He began recording the names and numbers of the assholes who called, and then he gave the list of info to his friends and asked them to call these people back on his behalf. Shazam! And the really smart part was that when someone from Team Stave called, they always took the high road. He explains,
In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers. They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women's rights.
Genius. While it was initially only a few friends doing the calling, the group quickly expanded. Soon, he was up to having 1,000 callers at his disposal. And they got crafty too. They'd look up information on the people who'd placed unwanted calls to Stave, and then when they called, they'd drop the names of the person's children or their school into the conversation. They'd also, said Stave, "tell them that we bless their home on such and such street," and then name their address. Are you getting shivers up you're spine yet? Stave's calling force became so powerful that sometimes he was able to hammer an unwanted caller with up to 5,000 calls in return. Looks like two can play at this game, stalkers.
Stave's approach was so appealing that he was flooded with people from all over wanting to help. So he organized Voice of Choice, which now has about 3,000 volunteers. They don't just fight back for Stave anymore. They'll make calls on behalf of whoever is being bullied by anti-abortion protesters, whether it's a doctor or a landlord or their family.
When asked if he thought this method of payback was harsh, Stave said no: "We gave them back what they gave us." Actually, not even. You gave back a mild, family-friendly version of what they gave to you. You proved to them that you know where they live and who their children are, but you didn't show up at their homes and schools and threaten them. You didn't come onto their lawn with posters detailing terrible imaginary things that they've done. You're serving up Revenge Lite™: Tastes great, less killing.
What's more, Stave is strict about who Voice of Choice will make calls for. If it's just run-of-the-mill protests outside clinics, he won't help them because he believes in people's First Amendment right to be out there saying what's on their mind. Protestors must be personally harassing doctors or landlords in order for Stave to step in. If only abortion opponents had the same respect for people doing what they were allowed by law to do. Ahem.
So this is the part where the evil bullies who've plagued him (and others) at all hours of the day or night learn their lesson after having a taste of their own medicine, right? Yep, yep. They all realized they were being horrible, and now every anti-abortion protester is treating their pro-choice opponents with the utmost respect. HA. No. Actually this is the part in the story where it gets much worse. Ready?
Since Voice of Choice has been such a success, Stave was honored by NARAL in California last week. Knowing that he was going to be out of town receiving the award, his personal band of haters chose that moment to canvass his neighborhood with fliers that had a photo of Stave in a Nazi uniform, photos of Holocaust victims, and bloody fetuses. [Pause for a brief rage-stroke intermission.] Of course, the fliers had Stave's contact information—and all of the phone numbers and addresses for other members of his family.
This goes without saying but, nevertheless: This is so incredibly fucked up. First of all, the guy owns a building, not a concentration camp. Second of all, what kind of person picks up a flier like that and thinks, "I need to get in touch with this Nazi!" God help us all.
Obviously Stave's daughter and all of his neighbors saw the fliers, but the contact information for Stave's family members must have been spread around. Because on Monday an abortion protestor showed up at the dental office owned by Stave's brother-in-law and began doing his abortion-protestor routine outside. That's such a great idea — I'm sure the random patient walking in for a cleaning is totally going to make the connection that the dentist's brother-in-law owns a building where there's an abortion clinic, and therefore abortion is wrong. At this point, Stave was back in town, so he went over to confront the protestor. And when he got there, the creep said, "How was your trip to San Francisco?" Deep inhale, slow exhale.
It is amazing that people like Stave have fortitude to stand up to psychos like this coming at them from every direction, but thank heavens they do, because, honestly, the thought that these protesters get away with so much is sickening. It's hard to know where these nutcases will end when it comes to making Stave's life a living hell—but it's probably not going to get any better now that he's getting more and more national media attention.
At least we know he's got plenty of backup from Voice of Choice. The worse these people get, the longer VoC can keep them on the phone, telling them all about the many "blessings and prayers" they're sending to their home addresses and to the locations of their children's daycare centers. Then everyone will be so busy making and receiving calls that they'll have less time to spend protesting outside clinics. And maybe in the future, we'll get to a magical place where both sides are talking to each other 100 percent of the time, and a woman will be able to walk right up to the front door of an abortion clinic without being harassed—because everyone will be so busy talking on the phone to their enemies to notice or care what she's choosing to do with her body.
A clinic's landlord turns the tables on anti-abortion protesters [Washington Post]