CHARLESTON - For the past 11 days, anti-abortion demonstrators have gathered at the Charleston Women's Medical Center in West Ashley as part of the annual 40 Days for Life movement against abortion, each of them signing a statement of peace before participating.
Police say the protest met a threat Saturday morning when an out-of-state abortion doctor flashed a gun at them.
Police arrested Gary Boyle, 62, a Blountville, Tenn., physician, on charges of pointing a firearm.
Boyle drove into the parking lot of the clinic on Ashley River Road near Fuseler Road at around 8:30 a.m. When three protesters, including a 17-year-old boy, approached him, Boyle brandished a black handgun loaded with 15 rounds, according to a police report.
Boyle then stepped out of his SUV and walked into the clinic without further incident, the report says. One of the three protesters, 50-year-old John Karafa, called 911.
"We were like, 'Well, that was a gun,' " Karafa said. "You can't do that."
Boyle appeared by video conference at a bond hearing Saturday afternoon dressed in a light yellow button-down shirt. Charleston County Magistrate Priscilla Baldwin set his bail at $25,000, which he posted later Saturday.
Whether Boyle performed abortions locally is not known. He and another physician operate the Bristol Regional Women's Center near his Tennessee home.
A woman who came to the courtroom on Boyle's behalf declined to speak during the proceedings and ignored requests for comment after the hearing.
More than a half-dozen anti- abortion demonstrators also attended
the proceedings, many wearing light blue "40 Days for Life" wrist bands.
Protesters began gathering outside the West Ashley clinic on Sept. 22 and will hold a prayer vigil against abortion there 24 hours a day, every day, until Oct. 31.
Charleston Women's Medical Center representatives could not be reached for comment through the after-hours phone line.
Tom Barber, local director of "40 Days for Life," said Saturday marked the first disturbance in its three-year history locally, which he said includes holding hands and lighting candles but not harassing doctors or patients.
Barber said participants must sign a "statement of peace" before joining.
Barber's sister, Sandra Rochester, said members of the vigil hand out literature to women who engage them. The pamphlets direct those patients to the Lowcountry Pregnancy Center, a Christian organization that counsels women and encourages alternatives to abortion.
"We've saved four babies so far," Rochester said.
Of the three protesters who approached Boyle, only Karafa represented the "40 Days" movement. The Charleston Women's Medical Center attracts anti-abortion demonstrators every Saturday, and about 15 people had come out to protest when Boyle allegedly brandished the gun.
The incident wasn't the doctor's first legal snag.
He and his partner operated their clinic without a required certificate of need from the Tennessee Health Department for several years in the 1990s, and the health department tried to shut them down, according to court filings.
The dispute dragged on for years until 2002, when an appeals judge ruled that the state statute requiring the certificate had violated a woman's right to privacy.