Todd Stave

Todd Stave, is the landlord of a building that houses as abortion clinic in Germantown, has been targeted by anti-abortion activists. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / May 8, 2012)

The fliers first showed up in March, dropped on doorsteps of the big homes in Todd Stave's quiet cul-de-sac. They compared him to a Nazi.

Two months later and 50 miles away, new anti-abortion leaflets appeared in another peaceful suburban subdivision, this time in Baltimore County. They had the same bloody images. But now, they targeted Stave's in-laws, asking neighbors to pray for the family and to call or visit their home. Protesters had also showed up at his daughter's middle school.

But Stave, the son of a doctor who performed abortions and whose office was once firebombed, has decided to fight back. The 44-year-old businessman has responded with an offensive of his own, gathering volunteers to call abortion protesters at home.

He owns a Germantown office that he rents to one of the nation's best-known abortion practitioners, and he's used to the attention of protesters. Many family members and neighbors are not, and when they became targets, he created his own network of activists.

Abortion protests have widened their scope, with foes pressuring people who aren't directly involved in clinics. But Stave's decision to fight back has escalated this showdown to an unusual level — even for one of the country's most polarizing issues.

Some neighbors are shocked by the tactics used by those who oppose abortion.

"It's inappropriate," said Michelle Weinstein, an interior designer who is Stave's neighbor. "You don't get innocent people involved."

Leaders of two organizations that have led the fight against Reproductive Health Services in Germantown say they are not responsible for the fliers.

"I'm not going sit here and say this was a good thing to do, or a bad thing," said Michael Martelli, head of the Maryland Coalition for Life. "We're dealing with the killing of innocent people, so it's important to keep that in perspective. Some people are going to go to different lengths because of that."

Stave calls the fliers distributed in his in-laws' neighborhood "a new low."

"This is an attempt to embarrass my in-laws, who have no more control over the clinic than you do," he wrote in an email last week to his group, Voice of Choice, which has continued to contact abortion protesters by phone, email and social media.

'It wasn't my fight'

The clinic sits in an office park, in a row of identical brick buildings with green trim. Its only physician, Dr. LeRoy Carhart, is a former colleague of Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas doctor killed by an an anti-abortion extremist in 2009.

Carhart's arrival in December 2010 sparked outrage from anti-abortion activists, but Stave says he wasn't a target at first.

Carhart, who performs both early- and late-term abortions, said he picked Maryland for his practice "because the community is very pro-choice." He travels to the clinic from his home in Nebraska, which banned late-term abortions in 2010.

In the summer of 2011, activists learned that Stave owned the building. His father had started the clinic, and his sister now owns the business.

Stave learned about abortion when he was 5 years old, the year of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. "My parents were very jubilant on that particular day," said Stave, who grew up in a Jewish family in Potomac.

On weekends and in the evenings, his obstetrician father had performed abortions in Washington, D.C. — where the procedure was legal — to earn extra money. When Stave was 16 and his parents were on vacation in Cancun, extremists firebombed his father's College Park office.

U.S. marshals escorted him to school after the incident, which Stave called "a brisk wake-up call to the emotional attachment that some people have to this cause."