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LeRoy Carhart, a doctor well known for performing abortions, has died

LeRoy Carhart, a prominent and controversial doctor well known for providing late-term abortions, has died at the age of 81.

His family, who announced the news via social media, said he died on Friday but did not give a cause of death.

"Dr. Carhart will be deeply missed by family, friends, colleagues, and patients," his daughter Janine Weatherby said in a Facebook post. "Lee had a very simple belief that patients know what is best for their life plan and was there to support them."

Ashley Edwards, a manager at a CARE clinic in Pueblo, Colo., founded by Carhart's grandson, confirmed the death in an email to NPR.

Carhart, who had provided abortions for the past 50 years, became a lightning rod for anti-abortion activists who opposed his practices. As the medical director of Clinics for Abortion and Reproductive Excellence (CARE), Carhart and his wife Mary ran two clinics in Nebraska and Maryland that specialize in providing second- and third-trimester abortion care.

Carhart spent 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, where he worked as a surgeon before retiring as a lieutenant colonel, according to his biography page. In 1985, he opened a walk-in emergency clinic in Omaha, Neb.

Carhart, one of the few doctors in the country known to perform abortions after the first trimester, had been the target of several threats to his life during his career.

In 1991, on the same day Nebraska passed a law mandating parental notification for minors seeking an abortion, Carhart's farm burned down. The fire killed 17 horses, a cat and a dog, Newsweek reported, and the local fire department did not determine the cause of the fire. The next day, his clinic received a letter arguing for the murder of abortion providers, the magazine said.

The threats only strengthened his resolve: In 1992, he founded his first clinic specializing in abortion.

In a case he took to the Supreme Court, Carhart filed a temporary restraining order in 1997 against Nebraska's attorney general to prevent the state's enforcement of a ban on what anti-abortion activists termed"partial-birth" abortion, a procedure usually performed in the second trimester. In June 2000, the Supreme Court ruled the ban unconstitutional, overturning the law in Nebraska and in 31 other states.

In a 2010 interview with NPR's Michel Martin, Carhart insisted that he's "as pro-life" as any abortion opponent.

"In a perfect world, I believe there could be a reason for no abortions," he said. "But unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. And unfortunately, these same people that protest abortions are also against all of the things that would help reduce the frequency of abortions, including early education about sex, early education about the use of birth control, availability of birth control, availability of school education about intercourse and about sex."

Edwards, the Colorado clinic manager, said in a statement that CARE clinics will continue their commitment to the Carharts' lifelong mission to provide abortion care and access to the community.

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