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Police Arrest 53 Protesters at Abortion Clinic : More Than 300 Crowd Jails as Demonstration in Atlanta Nears End

Times Staff Writer

Anti-abortion protesters staged what they called a pre-dawn “rescue” operation at an abortion clinic here Friday, provoking 53 more arrests in what was advertised as one of Operation Rescue’s last efforts in Atlanta.

Arriving at sunrise, before police had taken up their positions, roughly 140 anti-abortion activists clambered onto the steps and into the driveway of the Midtown Hospital, which performs abortions and other gynecological procedures.

The protesters’ numbers had already been diminished by 368 arrests this week, and about 330 were still clogging Atlanta jails Friday morning. Nevertheless, protest organizers promised a final dramatic push today and were readying plans for protests at clinics nationwide on Oct. 29.

Police Budget Overdrawn

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Many Atlantans, whose city has coped with the demonstrations since July, reacted testily to the Operation Rescue tactics, as this Southern city totes up the cost of the so-called “siege of Atlanta.” The city’s police budget is already well overdrawn, and officials are estimating that Atlanta will have spent more than $500,000 to process Operation Rescue arrestees and provide extra police protection for the four Atlanta abortion clinics targeted by the protesters.

“The police could be out doing a lot of other things than baby-sitting these protesters or protecting the rights of these patients who’ve made a moral choice,” said Dave Aston, a Southern Bell project manager who strolled by the demonstrators. “Everybody has a right to demonstrate, but this is harassment,” Aston said. “And it’s costing the city a lot of money.”

Atlanta Police Chief Morris G. Redding said the daily diversion of about 265 police officers “has had an overall effect on the crime problem,” notably property crimes such as home break-ins.

Threat to Remain in Atlanta

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Operation Rescue coordinators continued to battle the Atlanta courts to gain release of their members and threatened to remain in the city if bail rates are not lowered and arrested protesters are not released quickly.

“It’s outrageous. People are getting lost in those jails,” said Operation Rescue coordinator Quentin Patch. “They’re just being bottled up while serious criminals are being dealt with first.”

Operation Rescue workers have charged that the delays are a deliberate effort by the city to detain demonstrators until after the scheduled end of the protest’s current phase today.

Police officials, who also have been criticized for their harsh treatment of arrestees, deny the charges.

“The booking process is just overwhelmed,” a police spokesman said. “There are no intentional delays. It’s just a matter of time and red tape.”

Most of those arrested have declined to give their names to police or the courts, identifying themselves instead as “Baby Jane Doe” or “Baby John Doe.” Organizers describe the adoption of aliases as a show of solidarity with the nameless unborn they say they represent. But by Friday most protesters appeared to be discontinuing the tactic, which had snarled the release process.

Forces Short of Prediction

But, although Operation Rescue is threatening to stay in Atlanta, its forces have fallen short of the expected numbers. Having promised to bring 3,000 anti-abortion protesters to Atlanta, the organizers of Operation Rescue have been able to muster fewer than 500 at the clinics, advocates of the 1973 decision legalizing abortion say. Moreover, the pro-choice activists maintain that their own ranks have swelled since Operation Rescue has seized the Atlanta headlines and airwaves.

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“I am getting seven to 10 calls a day from people who say: ‘I’ve had it,’ ” said Linda Wiltse, one of several coordinators for the blue-vested “clinic escort” volunteers, who have shielded entering patients from the impassioned protesters.

The continued demonstrations also have rallied opponents to form the Coalition Opposing Operation Rescue, an uneasy marriage of pro-choice groups, feminists and Atlantans angry at the continuing drain on the city’s resources.

“We get a lot of thumbs-up from people driving by who are mad these people are costing us money,” said Richard Newburger, a COOR organizer carrying a pro-choice placard outside the Midtown Hospital on Friday.


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