Using a martial arts-like device to apply pain, Los Angeles police methodically removed and arrested about 250 anti-abortion militants who had blocked entrance to a Los Angeles medical clinic Saturday as part of "Operation Rescue."
Hundreds of anti-abortionists faced off against hundreds of pro-choice activists in front of the Los Angeles Midland Medical Clinic in the 3800 block of West Washington Boulevard. Except for some reports of jostling, the crowd of about 2,000 was peaceful.
Young and old from both sides shouted, chanted, sang and prayed in support of their abortion beliefs, while more than 150 uniformed police, supported by a dozen mounted officers, moved in to clear the street and isolate the anti-abortion protesters denying access to the clinic.
For the first time, Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of the historic 1973 Roe Vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which legalized abortion, was present at an Operation Rescue demonstration, lending her support to pro-choice advocates.
"I feel it is my duty to stay out here in the trenches to support Roe vs. Wade and to support choice and to make sure these women get into the clinic as safely as they possibly can," said McCorvey, who now lives in Dallas.
Archbishop Roger M. Mahony, spiritual leader of 3.4 million Roman Catholics in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, arrived as police were arresting and removing the last of the anti-abortion advocates.
"These people are people of great commitment and courage and I really applaud them for their pro-life stance," Mahony said. "It's a national tragedy that with impunity they keep killing unborn human beings. These people are calling the nation's attention to that in a very heroic and self-giving way, and I commend them very highly.'
Did Not View Arrests
Asked if he thought the police had behaved humanely, the archbishop said he had not been present when most of the arrests were made, but he said that when someone decides to take a position of civil disobedience, then goes limp, "the police have probably no alternative."
But Mahony was critical of the way police reacted in late March, when more than 700 abortion foes were arrested by Los Angeles police. "I saw the videotapes, and it seemed to me to be excessive," he said. Police videotaped most of the arrests made Saturday.
Nevertheless, charges of excessive force surfaced again.
Scott McGuirk, a spokesman for Operation Rescue, said that police had broken the arm of one of the sit-in protesters, identified as Wayne Householder, by using a "pain compliance control" device resembling a nunchaku, a martial arts device composed of two pieces of wood connected with a chain or rope. The Rev. Luthor Nelson, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Norwalk, said he both saw and heard what happened to the man, who Nelson thought was either entirely or partly blind.
"They (police officers) put the nunchakus on his arms, and there was a pop that sounded like a tree limb breaking, " Nelson said.
At police headquarters, Lt. R. Brown later confirmed that one of the arrestees had sustained an "arm injury" and had been taken to the hospital, but Brown said he did not know whether the man's arm had been broken.
The operation to remove the anti-abortion protesters and open the clinic took about 2 1/2 hours. Those sitting on the sidewalk, barring the entrance, were advised by police that they would be arrested if they did not move.
The arrests started at 10:48 a.m. A sergeant would touch the back or arm of a demonstrator, bend over and ask if he or she would walk to the point where their hands would be secured by plastic straps before being placed on a LAPD bus.
If the person complied, the sergeant would raise one finger and a single officer from a line of waiting officers would come and take the protester away. But if the person decided to go limp, the sergeant would call for two officers.
The two would advance with the nunchaku- like devices, quickly secure one on each arm and apply torque that often caused pain to show on the face of the person being arrested and sometimes a cry or a loud sob.
"Oh! Don't! Oh! Don't! Oh! Jesus!," cried a man in a blue sweat suit, as police lifted him to his feet and moved him toward the waiting bus.
As the police worked methodically, chants came from across Washington Boulevard, where a line of policemen faced the crowd.
"Now let Jesus post your bail," a group chanted.
"Not the church, not the state, women will decide their fate," others cried.
Anti-abortionists sitting on the sidewalk in front of the clinic sang the Lord's Prayer and "Jesus Loves the Little Children."
"If we ever needed our Father, we need him now," said Dr. Randy Adler of Stone Mountain Church in Laguna Hills.
Across the street, a woman carried a sign declaring, "It's not the woman's choice. It's God's choice. Stop the massacre."
As the protesters were arrested, they were put in waiting buses and taken to Parker Center, where they were booked on misdemeanor charges of trespassing. Many of those taken into custody identified themselves as "Jane Doe" or "John Doe," according to the LAPD.
Police opened the entrance to the clinic at 11:55 a.m., about six hours after "Operation Rescue" advocates had blocked the way with their bodies. As the last of the protesters were being cleared away along Washington Boulevard, a shout sounded.
"Hey, Operation Rescue," a young man and his companions cried. "We win. You lose. Ha, ha."
The senior LAPD officer present Saturday, Deputy Chief Ron Frankle, said he thought the police had acted in a "careful, controlled and orderly fashion." He said it was "unfortunate" that police had to be present at all.
"The legality of abortion should be resolved in the courts and Legislature and not in the street," Frankle said.
In recent months, "Operation Rescue" protesters have staged a series of demonstrations around the country in hopes of influencing the U.S. Supreme Court in overturning the Roe vs. Wade when the high court rules on a Missouri case, which it heard in April.