Operation Rescue ended its “siege of Atlanta” on Saturday, proclaiming success despite numbers of protesters being well short of its goal and promising to stage similar anti-abortion vigils at clinics across the nation in the coming months.
In the culmination of six days of renewed protests, almost 250 anti-abortion demonstrators fanned out over the city, picketing and attempting “rescues” of clinic clients at four Atlanta abortion clinics and drawing 40 arrests.
Among those detained Saturday was Ruby Springer, listed as a Los Angeles resident by Operation Rescue, who demonstrated in a wheelchair.
“We would have liked to see greater numbers come out, but we feel we succeeded in that we touched the hearts of Christians,” said Robert Nolte, a spokesman for the group.
“We are awakening a sleeping giant,” Nolte added. “The Christian community will rise up over the next few years, and this will become commonplace.”
Operation Rescue has called for anti-abortion protests at clinics across the country on Oct. 29. Ed Priddy, an Orange County anti-abortion activist who joined protesters in Atlanta on Thursday, predicted that similar rallies in the Los Angeles area could draw a crowd as large as the one that gathered there recently to protest the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.” (Los Angeles police estimated that crowd at 25,000.)
For the first time Saturday, demonstrators who favor the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortions came out in force, bearing pro-choice banners and briefly clashing with the anti-abortion demonstrators.
As Operation Rescue partisans sat in the driveway of the Midtown Hospital awaiting arrest, about 70 blue-vested volunteer “clinic escorts,” many of them on the scene for the first time, silently linked arms behind them until the anti-abortionists were carried away by police.
Since they began their protests during the July Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Operation Rescue demonstrators have placed a “severe drain” on the city’s police force and its budget, Police Chief Morris G. Redding said. City estimates of the cost of added police protection and paper work have risen to well over $1 million, one official said.
230 Still in Jail
But as the group prepared to end its Atlanta siege, 230 Operation Rescue protesters remained in jail. On Saturday, the Atlanta Department of Corrections continued to release the remaining arrestees in a trickle.
While fewer than 30 were being set free Saturday, about 50 demonstrators picketed outside Atlanta’s pretrial detention center carrying signs saying “Free the Atlanta 500" and “Let My People Go.”
Leaders of the group, meanwhile, vowed to return for more vigils. “We’re coming back, I assure you,” said Randall Terry, the coordinator of Operation Rescue.
That drew an equally determined response from Atlanta police, who last week diverted almost 300 officers daily to the protests.
“I doubt very much whether we’ve seen the end of Operation Rescue,” said Maj. Kenneth Burnette, an Atlanta police precinct commander. “They’ll be back, and we’re going to be here every day they are.”
Burnette is one of several Atlanta police officers and city officials expected to be named in a federal suit to be filed here next week by Operation Rescue lawyers.
Police Harden Tactics
After the police force hardened its tactics Tuesday, using neck holds in arresting the protesters, Operation Rescue organizers charged police brutality.
One of the victims of the alleged police violence, the Rev. Doyle Clark of Hudson, Ind., told reporters he had suffered a concussion when police arrested him and threw his limp body into a truck.