Abortion Foes Spend Easter Sunday in Jail

Times Staff Writers

For 252 inmates at the Parker Center Jail--most of them temporarily named John Doe--the aftermath of Operation Rescue was an Easter Sunday unlike any they had ever experienced.

Many of the men arrested Saturday during the finale of local anti-abortion protests were still prisoners at the jail in the downtown Los Angeles police headquarters, either because they followed their leaders’ orders not to give their names or because they refused to sign the trespassing citations issued by police.

In four cases, including that of Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, they were not released because they face felony conspiracy charges.

Instead of the usual routine of church services in the morning and a holiday meal in the afternoon, the prisoners spent Easter in holding tanks.


Sung Hymns

They passed the time singing hymns, preaching to each other, dozing on bunks in their prison-issue blankets and reaching through the bars to call home on pay phones.

Others of the more than 700 people arrested in the Saturday demonstrations were incarcerated elsewhere, including about 50 women at another Los Angeles police facility in Van Nuys. More were in Sybil Brand Institute for Women, according to police and Operation Rescue activists, but Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials would not confirm that.

Operation Rescue sympathizers on the outside remembered the prisoners at church services, while pro-choice activists vowed to turn their attention to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering limits on current access to abortion.


The Coalition for Safe and Legal Abortion, which coordinated last week’s pro-choice offensive against Operation Rescue, will not disband now, spokeswoman Janice Sinclaire said. The group will launch letter-writing and petition campaigns in support of the 16-year-old Roe vs. Wade decision under review by the high court.

“The next threat--and I think the greater threat--is from the Supreme Court,” Sinclaire said.

About 30 anti-abortion protesters left Parker Center on Sunday after wives and friends posted $250 bail each.

Those remaining behind are to be arraigned today.

Most of the arrestees did not want to leave. One of them, Father Leo Gelano, an Orange County Roman Catholic priest, did not respond when he was paged by jail officials shortly before 10 a.m. He thought someone was trying to bail him out. The clergyman did not know that a young seminarian, Jim Finney, was waiting in the reception area, having driven from St. Michael’s Abbey in El Toro with vestments and a chalice so Gelano might conduct a jailhouse Mass. Finney finally had to return to the abbey, his mission unaccomplished.

Joseph Foreman, national field director for Operation Rescue, likewise wanted to stay inside.

“One of the reasons we don’t post bond is we want to stand trial,” he said in a telephone interview from jail. “We want to put forth the case of the unborn child.”

At Parker Center, the Operation Rescue prisoners were housed together, about 60 to a tank, on two floors. Terry and three others were kept in a separate cell. The jail was so full that police ordered a bus to transport “the regular clients,” as Sgt. Eugene Hovelsen called the non-demonstrator inmates, to Van Nuys.


As Hovelsen strode past the holding tanks, one “John Doe” called out: “Sir, is it possible to get some Bibles in here? They took our Bibles away.”

The sergeant shook his head.

“It’s hard to control because anything could come in in books,” he said.

“Will we have services?” another inmate asked.

“We have services on Saturdays,” Hovelsen answered.

“Not on Sunday?” the inmate asked. “Not on Easter?”

Informal Service Held

So the prisoners made do. In one cell on the second floor they sang “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and held an informal Easter Sunrise service.


In an adjacent cell, a short man in dark clothes walked between the bunks, sermonizing.

“Great things come from persecution,” he said. “God’s people grow under pressure.”

They were awakened about 4:30 a.m. for a breakfast of powdered eggs and French toast.

Robert Thompson--John Doe No. 84--was sprung before the burrito lunch and the Salisbury steak supper. His wife, Melanie, had come from El Toro with bail. He wanted to come out, Thompson said, for “personal reasons,” including his three children. His right cheek was bruised, the result, Thompson alleged, of a police officer stepping on his face and scraping it against asphalt during his arrest.

Thompson, 29, said he had never been arrested before.

‘More Than Just Words’

“There’s no way I could do that by myself,” he said. But he did not regret his night in jail. “Your faith becomes more than just words.”

Pastor Paul Jessen of the North Long Beach Foursquare Church drove to Parker Center early Sunday afternoon to see the Operation Rescue inmates, but he was not allowed to enter the jail.

“This is the first time in my ministry I’ve ever had my pastoral privilege denied,” he said.

Watch Cmdr. Lt. Thomas Shepherd said no services could be conducted and no ministers’ visits were permitted because “we have no way to accommodate them. We just have too many people here.”

In Laguna Hills, the congregation of Stone Mountain Church worshiped without Pastor Randy Adler or Associate Pastor Duane Smith. Both were in jail.

At Carson Christian Center, Pastor Jim Daniel missed Easter services. He too was behind bars.

“We praise you, we thank you, God, for the 700,” Daniel’s co-pastor and wife, Marie, prayed before the congregation. “We follow you into battle in the name of the Lord.”

Times staff writers Marcida Dodson in Orange County and John H. Lee in Los Angeles contributed to this article.