Operation Rescue Members Claim Movement Is Misunderstood

Times Staff Writer

During a “rescue” of the unborn, participants of the anti-abortion Operation Rescue sometimes hold hands, pray, sing, and--in the case of the Rev. Mick McCoy--cry.

At a demonstration held by Operation Rescue in Los Angeles in February, McCoy, pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in El Cajon, said that, while others prayed and sang, he was so moved that he “just stood there and cried.”

Since its first demonstration in New York City on May 1, 1987, the nationwide anti-abortion group has been severely criticized by pro-choice advocates, who claim the participants are militants who will use physical and emotional abuse to prevent women from getting abortions.

On Saturday, Project Rescue, San Diego’s version of Operation Rescue, is planning to shut down one or more clinics in demonstrations in the San Diego area, but representatives of medical clinics said they will be prepared.


Injunction Bars Protesters

To discourage anti-abortion demonstrators from blocking entrances to clinics in San Diego and elsewhere in the state, officials of the American Civil Liberties Union said they have obtained a statewide preliminary injunction aimed at barring protesters from medical clinics that perform abortions. The preliminary injunction was granted verbally Monday by U. S. District Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima in Los Angeles, and ACLU officials said they expect to have the actual preliminary injunction before Saturday.

The preliminary injunction prevents trespassing on the property of medical facilities that perform abortions and other family planning services; forming blockades; conducting “sidewalk counseling” that waylays people and demonstrating within 15 feet of any entrance or exit to facilities, ACLU officials said. They said they will ask Tashima to levy fines up to $10,000 for violations of the order.

Project Rescue participants have said that, in spite of the preliminary injunction, they are still planning their demonstration. “Our position is still the same, but the cost has just increased,” McCoy said.

Members of Operation Rescue are more than willing to go to jail for their cause, and many refuse to identify themselves to law enforcement officials. About 22,000 participants have been arrested across the nation, Operation Rescue officials said.

Claims They’re Misunderstood

But McCoy said in an interview that the Operation Rescue movement is a poorly understood crusade that seeks to separate itself from anti-abortion militants. He conceded, however, that stragglers latch onto their cause to promote their own aggressive views.

“Many times, other people show up who are not a part of the rescue and use that as their protest. They use picket signs and verbal abuse. We ask people not to come and do that,” McCoy said. “It’s also totally untrue that we accuse or abuse women. . . . We’re trying to protect the children that are scheduled for death and prevent women from being exploited in the abortion clinic.”

The Operation Rescue movement has not bombed medical facilities that perform abortions, McCoy said. “Violence just begets violence.”

Will Lehman, 30, of Vista began Project Rescue in San Diego County in October when, after worrying about breaking the law, he chained himself to the doors of a medical office that performed abortions in North County.

“I had no information on Operation Rescue, but I had heard what happened in Atlanta, that a group of pastors and clergy attempted to shut down a clinic there in August, 1988,” Lehman said in an interview. “At first, I debated over whether civil disobedience was a Christian activity, but in the process of arguing about it with a friend, it became clear to me that I was wrong. There is scriptural basis for Christian disobedience.”

Last October, Lehman chained himself to the doors of Dr. George Kung’s medical office in San Marcos. Lehman also said he was was among demonstrators who were arrested Feb. 11 at an Operation Rescue in Sunnyvale, for which he was jailed after refusing to identify himself.

Known only as “Baby John Doe No. 4,” Lehman spent one month in jail in San Jose, entered a plea of no contest, and was given three years’ probation. Lehman acknowledged that he was breaking the law but, he said, “As it’s stated in Acts, is it better to obey God or to obey man?”

Rescue demonstrations occur every weekend in the United States, Lehman aid, but not all of them are “John Doe rescues.” For the demonstration scheduled Saturday, Lehman is encouraging abortion foes to bring identification.

Demonstrators will prepare for Saturday’s protest with a Friday-night rally in Mission Valley, where the “theology” and an action plan for the demonstrations will be discussed. Project Rescue has declined to identify at which clinics they plan to protest.

‘Concern for the Women’

Through nonviolent means, anti-abortionists at these demonstrations try to prevent women from being emotionally and physically scarred, McCoy claims. “We have just as much concern for the women as the children. Jesus said (of those who killed him), ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’ And these women don’t really know what they’re doing to their own child.”

The demonstrations also offer an opportunity for anti-abortionists to “repent of their own sins” for the 16-year history of abortion, McCoy said. In 1973, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas resident Norma McCorvey, who filed suit as “Jane Roe” in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case, had the right to an abortion.

“We’re there to repent because of our guilt in the area of silent consent . . . . We’re not there to point the finger. We’re trying to prevent a murder, not to prosecute. That’s the thing that attracted me to it. It’s an opportunity to respond in a way that is not accusing someone else but shouldering their burden of guilt,” McCoy said.