130 Abortion Foes Arrested as Sides in Controversy Clash in Poway
Less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can restrict access to legal abortions, San Diego’s faithful from both sides of the emotionally charged issue faced off Saturday at a women’s clinic in Poway.
The clash was non-violent, but the two sides did not go away without firing choice words, barbs and other vocal brickbats at each other.
The battleground was the office of Dr. Bruce J. Tarzy, a former Poway mayor who operates a clinic at 12630 Monte Vista Road, Poway.
Some members of Operation Rescue pushed their way inside his clinic at dawn, forcing two staff members, a female patient and her boyfriend inside. Scores of the group’s members sat outside the office door. In a telephone interview later in the day, Tarzy said he and his two employees plan to file charges against group members.
They did not begin leaving until four hours later, when San Diego County sheriff’s deputies ordered them out. A total of 130 Operation Rescue members were arrested for trespassing and failing to disperse. They were forcibly removed by deputies applying “come-along holds,” which are pressure points applied to the wrists to force the protesters to move. Another three dozen protesters who voluntarily walked out were not arrested.
Tarzy said that Saturday’s demonstration at his office left him “more committed than ever to freedom of choice” and added that he believes “very strongly that a woman has the right to use her body as far as the law allows.”
“You have to stand up for what you believe in,” Tarzy said. “Where does it end? If these people decide that women shouldn’t have birth control, will that be the next thing? Will they want to make birth control illegal, too? I think these people should spend more time concerned about the post-born.”
Unlike San Diego city police, the county deputies did not use the controversial nunchakus, which are martial arts weapons that can be wrapped around a protester’s wrist, inflicting pain. Sgt. Bob Takeshta, a sheriff’s spokesman, said his department does not approve of the use of the nunchakus .
About three dozen pro-choice pickets counter-demonstrating outside the clinic were also ordered to disperse, and were threatened with arrest if they refused.
After several warnings, the pro-choice pickets left voluntarily.
But before the protest ended, Operation Rescue members and the pro-choice advocates, many of them members of the North County chapter of the National Organization for Women, vented their disgust with one another.
Two moments at Saturday’s protest sharply demonstrated those ill feelings.
* When some of the Operation Rescue members voluntarily walked out of the clinic, their colleagues applauded and greeted them with religious songs and prayers.
But pro-choice demonstrators tried to drown out the religious songs by reciting their own chants, which called upon the police to arrest every Operation Rescue member and send them to jail.
* When a young woman walked into the two-story building for what was later described as a visit with her psychiatrist who has offices near Tarzy’s, several Operation Rescue members jeered and tried to grab her to keep her from entering.
She spun around and shouted back: “Leave me alone! I can’t even have kids!”
“Good!” screamed a young man representing the anti-abortion faction. “Then you can’t kill them!”
In interviews during the demonstrations, officials from both sides warned that the recent Supreme Court ruling will only further inflame their fervor. The ruling, handed down Monday, opened the way for the states to limit access to legal abortion.
‘Most Fundamental Right’
“This all ties into attitudes about women and to taking away a woman’s most fundamental right, the right to control her own body,” said Sallie Taylor, a North County NOW spokeswoman. “Women cannot continue to be complacent. We must be fighting mad.”
Susi Bueno, a pro-choice advocate, said she has trained 120 escort workers to help female patients through anti-abortion protests and demonstrations. She said a new wave of volunteers has come forth since the Supreme Court decision.
“I consider myself very militant,” she said. “I’m very angry. I don’t want anybody telling me what to do.”
Added Patricia O’Neil, an official with the Womancare Clinic in San Diego: “The Supreme Court has fueled the fire of anti-abortionists. And so I’m sure their malignancy is going to escalate.”
In the anti-abortion camp, the most notable change since the Supreme Court ruling was in numbers, and it appeared that the size of their demonstration and backup prayer support group was almost twice as large as at past protests.
“One of our objectives is to raise awareness,” said Sylvia Sullivan, an Operation Rescue spokeswoman. “We’re are working all the harder to send a message to the community that no more babies need die and that no more women need be unnecessarily exploited.”
Glen Phelps, a former police officer from the Midwest who has emerged as a Operation Rescue leader in San Diego, agreed that his group has found new hope in the court ruling. But he quickly added that more work will be done to permanently close abortion clinics.
“We’re peaceful,” he said. “We’re non-confrontational. We’re just peacefully trying to make a point.”
But Tarzy, the target of their protest on Saturday, could not disagree more.
“These people are not non-violent,” he said, nodding his head towards the Operation Rescue members who forced his staff and patients to hide inside a clinic bathroom until sheriff’s deputies could safely escort them out.
“You’re dealing with a fanatical element. They’re no different than common thugs.”
He charged that Operation Rescue members routinely ignore court orders prohibiting trespassing at abortion clinics, and he advocated prison terms for them.
“These people laugh at the penalties they’re being slapped with,” Tarzy said. “I think penalties should be strengthened. . . . They’re not just sweet, innocent people trying to do good things. . . . These people who pretend to be regular folks in the community should go to state prison and do some hard time.”
According to Tarzy, his two employees plan to file criminal charges against group members for allegedly being detained in the office against their will. He said the protesters damaged his office and broke the door to get in. He added that one of his patients also plans to sue because she was allegedly grabbed and assaulted by some protesters.
Tarzy said only two patients were forced to cancel their appointments. Protesters returned about 1:30 p.m., Tarzy said, but scattered when sheriff’s deputies arrived.
H. G. Reza also contributed to this report.