BOULDER, Colo. (AP) ― In a profile to be published in Esquire's September issue, Hern said he got hate mail and death threats in 1970 when he started working in family planning. Hern, a friend of slain Kansas doctor George Tiller, said the threats resumed in 1973 when he helped start Boulder's first non-profit clinic.
"I started sleeping with a rifle by my bed. I expected to get shot," Hern told the magazine.
Tiller was shot May 31 while serving as an usher at his church. Hern said Tiller's death was the result of 35 years of "hate speech" against abortion providers, something he blames on anti-abortion politicians and commentators.
"[Bill] O'Reilly is a disgrace to American society," he told the magazine. "He's full of shit. This is not a debate, it's a civil war. And the other people are using bullets and bombs. I think O'Reilly is a fascist, and he would fit right in in Nazi Germany as far as I'm concerned."
Besides Tiller, Hern was the only other U.S. doctor to publicly acknowledge that he performs abortions in the final weeks of pregnancy. It's not known whether other doctors are also performing such abortions but afraid to discuss it openly.
Tiller's family decided to close his clinic. A Nebraska doctor, LeRoy Carhart, has said he plans to start performing third-term abortions in Kansas.
Hern has called the straightforward name of his Boulder Abortion Clinic a declaration that abortion shouldn't be clandestine. But he told Esquire he objected to the word "abortionist" because it has become a "degrading and demeaning word that has the same negative connotations as the most despicable racial epithet."
Hern said he's been treated with contempt by fellow doctors and some of his own patients. He recalled a 14-year-old girl who told him she had to have an abortion because she wasn't old enough to have a baby. She had told a counselor abortion doctors should be killed, and he recalled asking her if she thought he should be killed too.
"Yes, you should be killed too," Hern quoted her as saying.
Hern said he believes abortions are the most important work he can do in medicine because a woman's life can depend on how it is performed. But he also said he doesn't think anyone gets used to it.
"I think we're hardwired, biologically, to protect small vulnerable creatures, especially babies. The fetuses may not be babies, but some of them are pretty close," he said.