700 Abortion Foes Arrested at L.A. Clinic : Movement Founder Is Booked as Police Take Tougher Action
Anti-abortion militants, rallying on the third and last day of Easter Week demonstrations, descended on a Los Angeles clinic Saturday but ran up against a boisterous throng of pro-choice activists and a toughened police force. More than 700 abortion foes were arrested.
Saturday’s demonstration was the largest in a three-day assault on Southern California family planning clinics staged by the New York-based anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue. Four Operation Rescue members will face felony charges, including the group’s founder, Randall Terry.
“We asked them not to come to L.A.,” said Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, who arrived at the scene of Saturday’s demonstration to personally oversee about 300 police officers assigned to ending Operation Rescue’s sit-in at Family Planning Associates on Westmoreland Avenue west of downtown.
“These are willful children . . . having tantrums,” he said.
Gates also announced the city would seek to have Operation Rescue pay the costs of Saturday’s police operation--estimated by officials at $100,000. The city attorney’s office said it will demand the costs in addition to other penalties when it takes arrested demonstrators to court.
But Operation Rescue leaders angrily charged that police had brutalized their supporters.
The anti-abortionists canceled a post-demonstration rally because their leaders were jailed, but said they were calling area ministers, beseeching them to speak out on their behalf in Easter Sunday services today. They said they want to bring pressure on the district attorney to drop charges against those arrested.
About 300 pro-choice supporters celebrated what they viewed as the day’s successes at a rally at Patriotic Hall Saturday night. They drank champagne and sang songs.
While both sides claimed success and planned future strategies, Operation Rescue leaders acknowledged they had failed to produce the numbers of protesters they promised during their three-day siege of the Southland.
Pro-choice activists at least matched the number of anti-abortion demonstrators and displayed a keen sense of organization that may have caught Operation Rescue off guard. Even though Operation Rescue took great pains to keep locations of its demonstrations secret, scores of pro-choice people were lined up at the clinic awaiting their enemy when the anti-abortion caravan arrived from Anaheim at 7 a.m.
Under a steady rain, more than 1,400 demonstrators representing both sides of the abortion issue surrounded the clinic near the edge of Koreatown. Operation Rescue members waved pictures of aborted fetuses and shielded themselves from the rain with plastic garbage bags, while pro-choice advocates chanted slogans, such as “Jesus is pro-choice.”
Police, some on horseback and in riot gear, cordoned off a four-block area and gave the order to disperse at about 9 a.m., after a clinic staff member signed a criminal complaint.
Pro-choice people moved, but most of the Operation Rescue members stayed fast, praying and singing hymns.
Four Felony Counts
Police then moved in and spent the next four hours arresting the demonstrators one by one. Most were handcuffed and taken or dragged to waiting vans and buses as the other side jeered. While most were cited on misdemeanor trespassing charges, four leaders will be booked on felony charges of conspiracy to commit a crime, Gates said.
One of the first to be arrested was Operation Rescue founder Terry, a 29-year-old former car salesman who has injected elements of militant civil disobedience into the anti-abortion movement.
Urging Them On
Terry stood, bullhorn in hand, urging his followers to fan out and sit on the pavement to block access to the clinic even after police had given the order to disperse.
Four officers approached Terry and bound his hands with plastic cuffs behind his back. When he appeared to struggle, the officers dragged him to a curb and lay him face down on the street, his face in a puddle of water.
“Oh, sweet Jesus, save me,” he cried between prayers.
Later, police closed in to arrest three other leaders who continued to exhort the crowd to block access to the clinic. Those being arrested allegedly resisted and were wrestled to the pavement by officers. Several officers were knocked to the ground in the scuffle.
Operation Rescue scheduled a press conference late Saturday to denounce what they said was mistreatment and “excessive force” used by police. One man’s face was rubbed into the pavement and a pastor was stepped on by a horse, charged Russ Neal, who was arrested and later released.
Gates, defending the force used by his officers, said earlier that the technique is called a “pain compliance hold” and is effective when demonstrators make their bodies go limp.
“Why should a police officer have to hurt his back when these people can walk. So we use a little pain compliance,” said Gates. “We have wheelchairs if they can’t walk.”
The Police Department came under fire last month when a smaller demonstration by Operation Rescue ended in no arrests--even though two clinics were forced to close. Some pro-choice groups questioned whether some department leaders might be sympathetic to the anti-abortion cause.
Pro-choice activists were pleased with their supporters’ performance.
Leader Is Elated
“We’ve out-smarted, outmaneuvered and beat” the anti-abortionists, said an elated Kathy Spillar, national spokeswoman for the Feminist Majority.
“People who support abortion rights have seen that this was successful, and I think Operation Rescue is on notice,” Spillar said.
“The battle is just starting,” proclaimed Linda Burstyn, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Members of Operation Rescue were also claiming victory.
“If one baby is allowed to live because of this, it’s a victory,” said a man who identified himself as Paul, 42, of Torrance.
“I’ve ignored this for 20 years, and I just can’t do that anymore.”
“There’s no telling how many babies were saved,” declared one man as he drove up to Parker Center in search of jailed comrades. He drove away in a van with “Read the Bible” written on a side panel before giving his name.
While some women have canceled abortion appointments in recent days, on Saturday lawyers from the ACLU intercepted patients headed for the clinic on Westmoreland and, as the demonstrations raged, shuttled them to other abortion clinics--including one in Cypress, hit by Operation Rescue on Thursday.
Clinic ‘on Schedule’
And, once the commotion died down, several patients who had been inside the clinic during the demonstrations departed, and others entered, escorted by pro-choice activists. A private security guard who refused to identify himself said the clinic made arrangements to get patients in early and was “right on schedule” with the day’s appointments.
The clinic is part of a 28-facility statewide chain. But it is one of only two facilities in the chain that performs abortions up to 24 weeks, according to a staff member. Most others perform abortions only up to 13 weeks of gestation.
On Friday night, smoke bombs were hurled into a pre-demonstration rally held by Operation Rescue at Melodyland in Anaheim. No injuries were reported. Three suspects were arrested.
Faced with the huge number of arrests in Saturday’s demonstration, police had to turn to makeshift booking centers, including the nearby Bellevue Recreation Center and the Coliseum.
At Bellevue, where an Easter egg hunt and a basketball game were scheduled for Saturday, police converted the basketball court into a temporary holding area. The back offices were used as a processing center to book the protesters, many of whom waited on bleachers.
Signs of Support
Terry came through the door, walked a few steps to a search area. Without being asked, he braced his head against the wall and spread his legs. He was eventually taken to police headquarters.
As Terry was being processed, he received some unexpected support.
“You are talking to the pro-life detail,” Detective Bob Thoreson, whose job it was to take booking pictures, told Terry.
“What do you mean?” the anti-abortion leader asked.
“I mean,” Thoreson replied, “that most of the guys in the building are active one way or another for life.”
Arrested demonstrators who identified themselves and had not been arrested before were released on their own recognizance. Those who gave their names as Jane or John Doe, or who had been arrested before, were bused to jail. Arraignments were scheduled for Monday.
Police were taking their time about the booking procedures.
Detective Vita Cicoria, who was directing the flow of bodies and paper, explained the pacing: “What we are not going to do is release them so quickly that they can go out again.”
Times staff writers Tracy Wilkinson, Charisse Jones, John H. Lee, Lynn Smith, George Stein and Sheryl Stolberg contributed to this article.