Police and protesters headed for a showdown as militant anti-abortion demonstrators and pro-choice activists marshaled their troops and completed their war plans on the eve of what promises to be three days of tense confrontations at Southern California clinics.
At an Anaheim church, Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, the New York-based anti-abortion organization, led anti-abortion activists in prayer Wednesday night and declared: “This is not a joke. This is not a game. This is war.”
Then he gave nearly 1,000 of his supporters their marching orders for Operation Rescue’s biggest demonstration to date in Southern California.
Crusaders on both sides of the abortion issue were to begin fanning out before dawn today to family planning clinics. Locations in many cases were kept secret until the last minute to stymie police--and the other side.
Operation Rescue members, moving a national campaign to the Los Angeles area, said they will stage sit-ins and picket three to five clinics each day to prevent women from obtaining abortions.
A dozen pro-choice protesters gathered across the street at the Melodyland church in Anaheim, carrying picket signs that read: “Down with Terror” and “My Body, My Choice.” The picketers also distributed pink flyers on cars in the parking lot, saying Operation Rescue has not explained the risks of being arrested.
The flyers asserted in graphic detail that those arrested would be subject to strip-searches and body cavity searches by jail guards using the same gloves on different inmates, possibly exposing them to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Meanwhile, Operation Rescue organizers passed out the “Rescuers’ Basic Checklist,” which advises protesters not to talk, touch or shout at anyone--police, passers-by or clinic personnel--once their demonstration begins today. Among other tactics, it advised protesters to “scooch to form a skull-cap shape around the door” of clinics and to “lie flat and pray” at any loud noises or sudden dangers.
Earlier Wednesday, police departments in Orange County communities where family planning clinics are situated were bracing for the onslaught of activists. Police set up mobile booking units in Orange and Cypress to handle a possible flood of Operation Rescue demonstrators who have kept secret where they intend to strike. Their departments and jails could be overwhelmed if the protests lead to arrests, police said.
“We would not do in-station bookings for masses of people,” Cypress Police Lt. John Schaefer said. “That creates a giant transportation problem, and our jail is not set up to accommodate volumes like that.”
Cypress, he said, will set up a command post near the family planning clinic in that city, and police have made arrangements to house arrested protesters in an undisclosed city building.
In Orange, police say they will follow the same measures taken last month when Operation Rescue activists threatened to close down the clinic in that city. “We’ve had briefings explaining to line officers what Operation Rescue tactics are,” Detective David R. Hill said.
Police officers will be deployed near the clinic this morning with bolt cutters to snap chains and cots to carry away any arrested protesters, he said.
In Newport Beach, Santa Ana and Fullerton--cities with family planning clinics--police said they are ready. Under mutual aid arrangements with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Santa Ana and Newport Beach police said some arrested protesters might be shipped to County Jail. And Santa Ana is prepared to roll a mobile booking van if needed, police spokeswoman Maureen Thomas said.
In Los Angeles, “Operation Rescue is going to have to obey the law,” Mayor Tom Bradley said Wednesday in pledging that police will arrest demonstrators who interfere with patients. “The public needs to know that we’re not going to permit someone to come into this town, violate the law, disrupt this community and think they’re going to get away with it.”
The Los Angeles Police Department, stung by charges that it has been too lenient on Operation Rescue members in the past, promised to keep clinic doors clear of rallying demonstrators who illegally try to block them.
Four City Council members also announced that they will attend demonstrations to guarantee that police safeguard the clinics. “Operation Rescue is kind of like the Ayatollah Khomeini approach to public policy,” Councilman Richard Alatorre said.
No Arrests Made
The Los Angeles Police Department came under fire last month when Operation Rescue staged protests that forced two clinics to close, yet no arrests were made. Members of the City Council two weeks ago demanded--and finally received--assurances that police will enforce trespassing and other laws to keep anti-abortion demonstrators at bay. A federal court on March 2 ordered demonstrators to remain 15 feet from clinic entrances.
If there are large numbers of protesters, Hill of the Orange Police Department said, officers may be too busy to closely enforce the court order.
“In that big of a situation with that many people, our concern is that if they don’t obey a court order from a federal judge, I don’t think they’ll have much regard for state and city laws,” Hill said. “Our main intention is to enforce the laws of California. Just keeping the peace.”
Several clinic operators and pro-choice organizations, in meetings leading up to this week’s events, questioned whether some Los Angeles police leaders were sympathetic with the anti-abortion forces, especially since several top commanders, including the department’s second in command, Assistant Chief Robert L. Vernon, are fundamentalist Christians.
Vernon, who is in charge of security operations during the days of protest, said anti-abortion activists will not be allowed to break the law. “I’m going to uphold the laws of this city,” Vernon said in an interview.
Operation Rescue has stood out among anti-abortion groups because of its militant, ‘60s-style tactics. On Wednesday, the Right to Life League of Southern California, one of largest such groups in the nation, said it understood Operation Rescue’s frustration and the “sense of urgency to end this American holocaust” but said it could not support its methods.
In another attempt to place a last-minute obstacle in the path of the anti-abortion forces, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed civil contempt charges against Operation Rescue in federal court on Wednesday. The ACLU contends that Operation Rescue has defied the court order.
Demonstrators have disrupted health care services at various clinics in Fresno, Chico, San Diego and Oakland and have “terrorized health-care clinic clients and flagrantly disregarded the law,” Carol Sobel, ACLU attorney, charged during a press conference.
A hearing in U.S. District Court is set for April 24, and the suit will be amended to include the names of those arrested during this week’s demonstrations, she added. The suit names Operation Rescue and its Southern California organizers, Jeff White, Joseph Foreman and Randy Adler, and 100 other unnamed people.
“We believe they need more than a $25 fine and a slap on the wrist,” Sobel said. “If they face losing their homes and jobs they will think twice about what they are doing.”
But Operation Rescue has ignored thousands of dollars in fines as a result of similar incidents throughout the country.
Operation Rescue leaders, meanwhile, held what they billed as a press conference in a hotel in Orange, near their headquarters. Rather than answer questions, however, Operation Rescue founder Terry displayed what he said was a 19-week-old fetus that had been aborted.
“Ask the dead baby your questions,” the 29-year-old former car salesman told startled reporters before he and his entourage rushed out.
The organization is predicting that about 3,500 of its members--many flown in from other parts of the country--will join the demonstrations, designed to coincide with Holy Week.
The organization, made up mainly of religious fundamentalists, has justified its sometimes illegal tactics by contending that it is “saving lives and will only obey higher laws.”
Tension High at Clinics
On the eve of the planned protests, tension was high at the approximately 90 clinics in Southern California. Many clinic directors reported that their clients have been frightened away from scheduled appointments out of fear of confronting Operation Rescue picketers.
At the nine clinics run by Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, the staff has been calling all clients with scheduled appointments to let them know of the possible confrontations, and to give them the option of rescheduling.
“A few have rescheduled but the majority (have) not,” said Janice Sinclaire, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman. “More often than not, the women have gotten very angry because their right to privacy and health care is at stake, and they say they will not be stopped.”
Pro-choice forces promise to be out in numbers to escort women trying to enter clinics and discourage Operation Rescue operatives.
“It’s siege mentality. Isn’t it sick?” said Patricia O’Neil, associate director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center in the mid-Wilshire area. “How would the public react if this were happening in a cancer clinic? The public would not tolerate it.”
In scores of sit-ins around the country during the last year, including Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia and Sunnyvale, Calif., Operation Rescue claims 20,000 arrests of its members, straining courts and jails in each targeted city.
“We certainly hope we don’t have to get involved in acts of civil disobedience,” Newport Beach Police Lt. Tim Newman said. “But if it becomes an incident, we hope individuals act in a civilized manner. It’s bad for everybody if things get out of hand.”
Fullerton police plan a low-profile strategy, with no officers deployed near an abortion clinic there, Sgt. Jeff Roop said. “We’re waiting to be contacted if any problems arise,” he said. The department’s SWAT team, however, will be on standby, and anyone arrested will be housed in the city’s jail, he said.
Anaheim police said Wednesday that they received a call from the head of security at Melodyland requesting extra patrols near the church after vandals left cow droppings and spray-painted walls. But Howard said no incident report had been filed and he could not confirm any details.
Times staff writers William Overend, Judy Pasternak, Terry Pristin, Lynn Smith, Lonn Johnston and Mark Landsbaum contributed to this article.