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PROTEST: Escondido Abortion Clinic Closed : Picketers Ignore Court Order, Force Abortion Clinic to Close

Times Staff Writers

More than 300 anti-abortion demonstrators ignored a federal court order Saturday and made an abortion clinic close in Escondido by blocking the building’s four entrances and marching on the sidewalk.

Police reported no incidents or arrests during the five-hour demonstration that begin at 7 a.m. outside the Town Center Professional Building on East Ohio Avenue.

Escondido Police Lt. Ron Lepanto called the demonstration by Project Rescue “peaceful and well-organized.” There were no confrontations with pro-choice groups, he said.

The protesters, representing several denominations, ethnic groups and ages, ignored a preliminary injunction obtained by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys Tuesday forbidding abortion foes from blocking the building’s entrances. ACLU attorneys obtained the order from a federal judge in Los Angeles. The order was in force statewide over the weekend as an attempt to stop protesters from blockading medical clinics where abortions are performed.

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The preliminary injunction also intended to thwart weekend demonstrations throughout the state by Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion group, and its local branch, Project Rescue. Protesters were also prohibited from disrupting employees of the clinics or women seeking abortions.

Three women believed to be employees arrived at the clinic shortly after 7:30 a.m. but left quickly. No patients arrived at the clinic during the protest.

Lepanto said police were told “the business was closed and no appointments were scheduled for today.” Police did not attempt to enforce the injunction because nobody was prevented from entering the building and no complaints were received about the protesters trespassing on the property, Lepanto said.

A woman working for the clinic’s answering service said the office is open Saturdays until noon. When a reporter called the clinic at 11 a.m., the answering service said nobody was in the office.

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On Saturday, frustrated ACLU staff members read the injunction aloud to the protesters, who drowned them out with singing.

“You are blocking access. You are in violation of the law,” said the ACLU members, who declined to give their names.

An equally frustrated Mark Salo, executive director of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside counties, stood across the street and expressed his anger.

Denied Violation

“I think they’re breaking the law,” he said. “I think it’s a misguided attempt to intimidate women who are lawfully seeking health care.”

Mick McCoy, pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in El Cajon, denied that the protesters were violating the injunction. McCoy, spokesman for the demonstrators, initially denied that Project Rescue was affiliated with Operation Rescue. He argued that his group was immune from the injunction because it was not named in the court order.

When told that the court order also applied to groups acting in concert with Operation Rescue, McCoy admitted that some Project Rescue members were also affiliated with the national group. He denied being a member of Operation Rescue.

“We’re trying to find where the children are scheduled to die,” McCoy said. “We’re here to stop as many as we can, through peaceful, non-violent intervention in the last court of appeal. We’ve tried other methods, letters, pickets, counseling . . . this is the court of last appeal.”

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But the few abortion supporters who appeared at the demonstration were just as adamant in their position.

“Some people say the unborn should have rights,” said Rita Mansel, who had a pro-choice bumper sticker on her shirt. “Does it mean that if you’re born again that you have twice as many rights as anybody else?”

Lenore Lowe, director of community affairs for Planned Parenthood, said her group will offer free abortions to all of the women whose appointments for Saturday were canceled.

“These women have been through enough hassle,” Lowe said. “They’re making a decision based on the situation they have to deal with.”


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