More than 1,000 demonstrators were arrested Saturday in at least 27 cities across the nation as anti-abortion activists tried to blockade abortion clinics and prevent employees and patients from entering.
Police in Pittsburgh, Pa., arrested 367 protesters at the nation’s third-largest abortion clinic, apparently the largest number arrested in a single city Saturday.
They made 227 arrests in Falls Church, Va.; about 170 each in suburban New Orleans and Deer Park, N.Y.; at least 122 in Orlando, Fla., and an estimated 100 more in Providence, R.I., where police said five officers suffered apparently minor injuries when they tried to shove through a crowd.
The 300 anti-abortion protesters were met in Providence by an equal number of pro-choice demonstrators, and Police Chief Walter Clark said: “The balance of the city is in jeopardy. I have pretty well all of my officers on duty today out here.”
‘Day of Rescue’
The first-ever “National Day of Rescue” protests also were met in some other cities by large numbers of counterdemonstrators.
In California, about 100 arrests were reported when 500 anti-abortion activists were met by an estimated 200 pro-choice demonstrators outside the Family Planning Alternatives clinic in Sunnyvale, south of San Francisco. The two groups taunted each other, but police in riot gear kept them apart and no violence was reported.
The pro-choice demonstrators chanted: “Not the church, not the state, women will decide their fate,” while the anti-abortionists sat on the sidewalk blocking entrance to the clinic, read aloud from religious books and sang hymns. Clinic director Pat Miller said 16 abortions had been scheduled at the clinic but were performed elsewhere.
In the Los Angeles area, 100 members of the Coalition to Defend Abortion Clinics circled the Family Planning Clinic in El Monte as about a dozen Operation Rescue members picketed for about an hour, a clinic worker said, but the clinic remained open. Police were called but no arrests or violence were reported.
“We’re very happy. They were outnumbered, so they left after just a few minutes,” coalition spokeswoman Ann O’Connell said.
Despite the arrests, mostly for blocking access or trespassing, the demonstrations organized in 32 cities by the New York-based Operation Rescue were generally peaceful, authorities said.
At many clinics, volunteers helped escort patients through ranks of protesters. Most clinics said appointments that were not kept were rescheduled or referred to clinics not being picketed.
In Des Moines, a clinic employee was slightly injured when protesters, thinking she was a patient, dove into her path to stop her from entering. Police arrested 20 demonstrators.
Houston police arrested 13 people at a clinic, including one who chained himself to a heavy metal garbage can. “This is a violent place,” the unidentified man said while police worked to free him. “This is a place where innocent blood is shed for money.” A total of at least 88 protesters were arrested in four Texas cities.
Atlanta police arrested 40 people, including a man who tried to stop a police motorcycle from entering clinic property. Demonstrators there lay in the path of clinic employees’ cars arriving for work.
Operation Rescue began blocking clinic entrances in Atlanta on July 19, during the Democratic National Convention. About 7,000 sympathizers have been arrested nationwide since then, 1,200 of them in Atlanta.
The Providence anti-abortion demonstrators had been expected to gather in Brookline, Mass., hometown of Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis, where large numbers of abortion rights activists--and a huge police force--massed early Saturday for a counterdemonstration.
As many as 2,000 placard-carrying supporters of abortion lined main streets in Boston and neighboring Brookline.
In Brookline, Acting Gov. Evelyn Murphy told a rally of pro-choice demonstrators that only Dukakis would protect their right to a legal abortion. Vice President George Bush opposes abortion except in limited circumstances.
A pro-choice rally in Austin, Tex., featured a rare public appearance by the woman whose lawsuit led to legal abortions. Norma McCorvey filed suit as “Jane Roe” in a landmark case that became known as Roe vs. Wade, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that Texas could not deny her an abortion.
McCorvey said the recent national attention anti-abortionists have received made her decide to appear at the Texas capital rally.
Jody Buttram-Bassett, director of a clinic in Irvington, N.J., where four were arrested, said: “I feel these people are fanatics and fanatics are always unreasonable.
“This clinic provides other services besides abortions and I feel bad that the women who want checkups and to make sure their babies are healthy can’t get in here without a hassle.”
Abortion opponents offered one woman approaching a clinic in Irvington money and shelter to help her raise her child. “Abortion never makes you un-pregnant. It only makes you the mother of a dead child,” she was told.
In New York, protesters defied threatened fines and a federal court order against blocking entrances to clinics, and scores were arrested. In Deer Park, on Long Island, 300 anti-abortion protesters alternately prayed and exchanged heated invective with a group of about 60 counterdemonstrators.
The National Organization for Women said it would press for $25,000 fines against Operation Rescue, claiming the federal order barring the group from blockading clinics had been violated.
Demonstrators also were arrested in Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Charlotte, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, N.C.; Jackson, Miss., and Phoenix.
Nearly 200 people had been arrested in similar demonstrations Friday in New York, Indiana, Florida and Tennessee.
Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry claimed that the day’s protests nationwide had their desired effect.
“This could give clout to overturn Roe vs. Wade and ultimately to a constitutional amendment that bans child-killing in all 50 states,” Terry told reporters in Manhattan, referring to the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. “That is my ultimate goal.”