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Four Voice Their Operation Rescue Stories

Times Staff Writer

The most ardent of those who believe that abortion is murder have enlisted in Operation Rescue, a national campaign to blockade the doors of family planning clinics and force doctors to cancel appointments.

During the last month, the New York-based organization has been recruiting troops for a three-day siege at undisclosed Southern California clinics starting today. Some recruits are veterans who have defied injunctions in order to sing, pray or chain themselves to clinic doors in the belief that they must obey what they call higher laws to “rescue children from death.”

The group has perhaps 300 hard-core members as well as sympathizers in about 100 affiliated groups nationwide. Rank-and-file members, an anti-abortion fringe of Catholics and fundamentalists from both ends of the political spectrum, agree in their belief that they are personally responsible for the continuing “holocaust” and will be judged accordingly in the hereafter.

Here are the voices of four true believers.

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Beda Lehman, 30, of San Diego, pregnant with her fourth child, had been waiting for her husband, William, to be released from jail in Sunnyvale, where he participated in his first anti-abortion protest. Before he was released this week, she said she would go through childbirth without him if need be. In any case, she has no doubts or regrets over his arrest Feb. 11.

William Lehman, 29, an evangelical Christian, broke the law after reading Operation Rescue literature and sending for training tapes. “He was very convinced babies were being murdered and he had not done anything and felt led by the Lord to chain himself to the clinic,” she said.

Working alone at a San Marcos clinic, he “did a krypto,” jargon for chaining oneself to a clinic with chains and locks of “kryptonite,” uncuttable with ordinary tools, she said. “It’s a special type of lock that’s hard to break through,” she said. “It takes the police a long time to get them loose. There’s more time for babies to be saved.”

Beda believes that her husband lost his job as an electrician because of his anti-abortion work, although the official reason was that he was laid off because there was a lack of work.

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Jobless, he was free to respond to the call for “John and Jane Doe” protesters in Sunnyvale early this year from Jeff White, California director of Operation Rescue. Leaders of the group were spurred on by Sunnyvale’s reputation for being tough on self-proclaimed “rescuers,” she said.

“We want the courts and the media to know abortion is murder and we’re not going to stop doing sit-ins, we’re not going to stop trying to close down the clinics. Even if they fine us heavily or throw us in jail.”

William Lehman’s trial is scheduled in mid-April. The baby is due the first week of May.

Beda Lehman said she is surviving through charity. Before her husband was released from jail, she said she would be sad to have to give birth without him, adding: “I know my God. Either the Lord will work it out for him to be here or the Lord will give me the strength to go through the birth without him.”

Mary Ellen Kulda, 61, a homemaker and mother of eight from Orange, said her road to happiness is paved with high moral standards and “submitting yourself to God.”

That road led her last September to San Francisco, where she spent her first few hours in jail after blockading a clinic there and being charged with trespassing.

A Catholic convert, she said: “The idea the woman has a choice over her own body makes me sick. Today, it’s popular to have your pleasure and not be responsible. The bulk of women getting abortions are not responsible for their behavior.”

She had been recruited by her daughter, who was also arrested in the Sunnyvale sit-ins. “I went up with a lovely family from Pasadena,” she said. “I saw wonderful people; it was peaceful. I had a good experience. No one got hurt, and the officers were wonderful.”

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They were the last group to leave. Eight officers in riot gear surrounded them as they sang their songs and said their prayers. “One officer in front of us had tears running down his cheek. It was so moving.

“Then they escorted us to the little paddy wagon one at a time. They were so happy we were going to walk. The one that escorted my daughter said, ‘This is just like going to the prom.’

“You can see my feathers were not ruffled.”

During Rescue Week in Los Angeles, she plans to sit in at least once. “At my age, what do I have to lose?”

Don Carney, 37, an educational video producer from South Pasadena, is a Catholic who missed getting arrested during his first so-called “rescue” at the Pico Women’s Medical Group in Los Angeles on Feb. 11.

“I think God let us off the hook so we’d tell other people and more would show up the next time,” he said.

Anti-abortion protest is “a chance to prove to yourself you’re willing to take a chance on God,” he said. “He takes real good care of you. So I’m telling my friends (to) sit down and be counted.”

Carney distributes flyers at parish Masses and lobbies priests to at least pray at sit-ins if they cannot take the time to be arrested. He gives $20 and $40 at a time at rallies, and he helped his brother and sister fly out from Kansas for the Los Angeles protest.

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For Carney, a bachelor, what is at stake is the human race, which he believes is endangered by the “suicide mentality” of abortion. “Women only shouldn’t decide whether the whole human race is going to survive. We should all have a say.”

A single mother, who did not want her name used, regrets an abortion she had after being raped and has become an even stronger believer in the anti-abortion movement after spending 30 days in an Atlanta jail. As a result, she lost her secretarial job there, and she signed on as an assistant to the national field director of Operation Rescue.

First-timers at sit-ins she said, “might not realize what they have to lose. After that, they make the decision to give what they have to save the lives of babies. You live with that. You put your worldly possessions on the line.

“People sell their businesses and possessions. You’re prepared to lose things you have. It’s the nature of the job.”

The woman said her parents disowned her at 16 when she became pregnant. Her mother had scheduled an abortion, but she could not go through with it, believing that women should be responsible for their actions, she said.

A brief marriage to the father ended in divorce.

“People say it will ruin your life. They’re wrong. I have a beautiful 11-year-old daughter. I’m glad I didn’t listen,” she said.

She was traumatized and not rational when she decided at 25 to terminate a second pregnancy that resulted from a rape, she said. Because of her strong anti-abortion feelings, she said, she begged for counseling at the abortion clinic. Workers there assumed, however, that her decision had been made, she said. “The ladies at the clinic only said how much they hated men. Their only option is abortion.

“I could have gone to school, could have done a number of things. I would give everything I have away to keep (her child.) That’s how you feel as a parent.”

If the Supreme Court gives more discretion over abortion to the states--as both sides believe is possible--she figures that there will be enough work to keep her employed with Operation Rescue for a long time to come.


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