Atlanta police, accused of brutality in this week’s massive arrests, detained 10 more anti-abortion protesters Thursday as the group calling itself Operation Rescue continued its “siege of Atlanta.”
About 150 anti-abortion activists, many pushing their children in carriages, saying the rosary and singing hymns, were met by a phalanx of 40 police officers at one of five clinics in Atlanta that perform abortions.
The continuing demonstrations, designed to bring the fight against abortion from the steps of the Supreme Court to the doorway of the clinic, have tied up a large share of Atlanta’s police force--about a quarter of which has been posted at the clinics for three days.
A demonstration leader said the protests, in which about 350 persons have now been arrested, marked a shift in the tactics of Operation Rescue. Until now, it has sought to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion primarily by protesting on Capitol Hill, in front of the high court building and before state legislatures.
“It’s no longer a war of words. It’s a different battle--a war of action,” said Brynne Marshall, a coordinator of the movement. Marshall added that the ranks of Operation Rescue volunteers are filled with people who were “disappointed by what the rhetoric of the pro-life movement has produced.”
Robert Nolte, communications director of Operation Rescue, added: “We’re not demonstrating, and we’re not protesting here. We’re saving lives.”
On Thursday, demonstrators threw themselves in the paths of patients at the Feminist Women’s Health Center, thrusting photographs of aborted fetuses at them and pleading: “Let me help you; there’s another way.”
Clinic clients, about 10 of whom received abortions Thursday morning, were flanked as they entered the clinic by policemen on horseback and by trained volunteer escorts.
Those arrested Thursday had blocked the path of a departing car, a violation of a recent court order prohibiting harassment of clinic patients. They were charged with disobeying a police officer.
When police officers moved in, the protesters went limp and refused to cooperate. They prayed and sang, in emulation, their leaders said, of the 1960s civil disobedience protesters.
Robert Fierer, an attorney for the nationwide Operation Rescue movement, said Thursday that he would file charges against the city of Atlanta by early next week, seeking a stop to what he called “inappropriate and unacceptable” use of force by the police in arresting protesters and asking monetary damages for the alleged victims as well.
Fierer said that, if the responses of police officers to the protesters continue to escalate, “someone is going to get seriously hurt.” Police and city officials deny the charges of brutality.
The “rescuers,” as the protesters call themselves, liken their movement--and their treatment at the hands of the police--to those of the black civil rights activists of the 1960s.
Operation Rescue, which began its Atlanta “siege” during the Democratic National Convention in July, has drawn many of its tactics and mannerisms from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers. Throughout the warm fall day Thursday, they sang the same anthems, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Amazing Grace.” And their language contains the references to higher authority that 1960s desegregationists cited in their struggle.
“When any government does not fall in line with God’s instructions, we are released from robot-like adherence to the law,” said Brynne Marshall.
But there, say advocates of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion, is where the similarity ends.
“This isn’t a civil rights demonstration,” said Cathy Woolard, a clinic escort and organizer for the Georgia Abortion Rights Action League. “What they’re doing is trespassing on private property and infringing on other people’s rights.
“They have a right to protests,” Woolard added. “But they should be at the Supreme Court.”
In the end, that is where Operation Rescue volunteers expect to end up.
“The goal is to save babies and mothers today in such a way that we can change the laws that permit this tomorrow,” said Randall Terry, a former used-car salesman from Binghamton, N. Y., who is the chief coordinator of the Atlanta protests.