A coalition of pro-choice advocates went to federal court Wednesday seeking to prevent Operation Rescue, the national anti-abortion group, from blockading women’s health clinics in California, including those in the Los Angeles area that are targeted for a massive demonstration later this month.
Calling the Operation Rescue protests “vigilantism,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed the complaint, which would restrain Operation Rescue and affiliated anti-abortion groups from bodily blocking clinic entrances or demonstrating closer than 15 feet from the clinics. Both strategies have been used successfully by Operation Rescue across the country during protests against women’s legal right to abortion.
A hearing on the matter will be held today. Similar injunctions have been granted in Washington state, New York and Pennsylvania.
However, Operation Rescue organizers said Wednesday they will ignore an injunction as they have in several other cities. Civil disobedience has been a mainstay of their movement, some protesters chaining themselves and large objects, including cars, to the doors of abortion clinics. At least 7,000 members have been arrested in the last year during demonstrations nationwide.
Operation Rescue spokeswoman Barbara Magera said of the suit: “It’s not going to affect our plans at all. We are called to rescue children from death regardless of injunction or no injunction.
“Proverbs 24:11 says: ‘Rescue those unjustly sentenced to death.’ It doesn’t say don’t stand back and let them die if someone has ordered an injunction.”
She added: “We are prepared to go to jail if necessary. The pro-death people are trying to intimidate us through civil lawsuits and things like that. But it won’t work. It won’t stop a nationwide upheaval to end the legalized child killing in our nation.”
Operation Rescue members, who are working with a coalition of Southern California pastors, have been recruiting demonstrators in Southern California for several weeks for a march on the clinics planned for March 22 through 25. The group, a loose coalition of fundamentalists and factions from the Roman Catholic Church, was founded a year ago by Randall Terry, a 29-year-old former automobile salesman from New York.
In a trial run for the March demonstration, 500 Operation Rescue demonstrators on Feb. 11 barred entrances to two Westside clinics, despite counter-demonstrations by pro-choice groups. There were no arrests.
Groups asking for the restraining order against Operation Rescue include Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Federation, Family Planning Associates Medical Group, Pico Women’s Medical Group, the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers, the California chapter of the National Organization for Women, several other clinics and women who allege they were denied access to clinics.
Carolyn Thompson, one of the plaintiffs, said during a press conference at the ACLU office Wednesday that she was denied access to the Women’s Medical Center of Los Angeles during the Feb. 11 protest. Recovering from recent surgery not related in any way to an abortion, she said tearfully that she went to the clinic for her post-operative checkup but was surrounded by Operation Rescue protesters.
“They pushed me, grabbed my arms and called me murderer, and said I would burn in hell, and showed me horrible pictures of mutilated fetuses,” Thompson said.
She added that pro-choice demonstrators helped her get to her car, but that she fainted because of the pain when some of her surgery sutures burst open during the confrontation.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said.