At least 242 people were arrested Saturday after militant abortion protesters descended on a Los Angeles women’s clinic during a violence-marred, seven-hour siege that capped a week of abortion rights protests in Southern California.
The demonstration, organized by the national anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, failed to shut down the Mid-Wilshire clinic. As hundreds of abortion rights activists cheered them on, police cleared a path to the entrance and security guards escorted staff and patients inside.
Throughout the day, abortions were conducted inside the Family Planning Associates Medical Group clinic while an estimated 1,200 demonstrators representing both sides of the emotional issue waved signs, chanted, sang and prayed.
More than 340 police officers, including 14 on horseback, worked to control the crowd and make the arrests, drawing allegations of brutality from abortion protesters. Several people at the protest suffered cuts and bruises, witnesses said.
Four of the Operation Rescue demonstrators, including Southern California leaders Joseph Foreman and Jeff White, were booked on suspicion of felony conspiracy charges after they allegedly instructed others to block doorways. Others were booked on misdemeanor trespassing charges.
In many ways, the drama was a re-enactment, on a smaller but more volatile scale, of the massive protest at the clinic on March 25, 1989, that resulted in the arrest of 768 people. Just as last year’s demonstration capped a weeklong wave of protests in Southern California, Saturday’s demonstration concluded what anti-abortion organizers called a “Holy Week of Rescue” in commemoration of Easter.
“There’s no greater violence than the violence that goes on inside the clinic,” said Susan Odom, an Operation Rescue organizer from Philadelphia.
Activists representing both sides of the abortion debate described two violent clashes. The first occured about 7:30 a.m. when abortion foes tried to break through a defensive ring formed by the clinic’s security guards and abortion rights activists around the clinic’s back parking lot and entrance. The abortion protesters “rushed” the perimeter, clinic officials said.
Leaders of abortion rights advocacy groups said the clinic was expecting the protest because “spies” for the Clinic Defense Alliance, a network of organizations formed to counter abortion protesters, had infiltrated Operation Rescue rallies.
“We weren’t prepared for them to jump the fence and start swinging on our in-house security,” said Michael Monji, associate administrator for Family Planning Associates, which operates 30 clinics in Southern California. Previously, Monji said, “they just sat down.”
Security guard Jim Russell suffered a puncture wound in his arm that he said required six stitches. He said one protester pulled his arm down on the chain-link fence and another climbed over it. Another guard’s face was bloodied in the melee, Russell said.
Operation Rescue organizers acknowledged that protesters scaled fences to get near the clinic doors. Dave Conrardy, Southern California field director for Operation Rescue, said at least three protesters were beaten by the clinic’s security guards.
“The only thing our people were doing was crawling over a fence,” Conrardy said. “Out of 80 people who tried, maybe 40 got over.”
The second clash occurred when police moved in to separate hundreds of opposing protesters outside on 6th Street. “The two factions were pushing and shoving,” said Police Capt. Robert Riley, commander of the Rampart Division. Suddenly, Riley said, “there were groups of individuals who were pushed away that surged toward the officers.”
Witnesses said police responded by jabbing protesters with batons and moving in with mounted patrols.
At a press conference later outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, where their comrades were jailed, Operation Rescue leaders decried police tactics and said they plan to sue the city.
Pastor Al Howard of a North Long Beach congregation called His Nesting Place said he was jabbed in the groin by a police baton. Another protester said his hand was still numb from thin plastic handcuffs. One jailed protester was said to be wearing a cast where police had applied a nunchuka, a plastic martial arts device used in so-called pain-compliance holds.
As in the protest last March, scores of anti-abortion demonstrators went limp as police made arrests, prompting officers to use the nunchukas to force them into waiting buses. As video cameras operated by the media, protesters and police rolled, scores of protesters grimaced, gasped and yelped in pain as officers applied the nunchukas around their arms and shoulders.
Police refer to such techniques as “come-along holds” and said they would be unnecessary if protesters agreed to walk on to the bus. Brutality complaints were expected, said Lt. Fred Nixon, a police spokesman. “We get those every time we police one of these things,” he said. “It’s why we welcome the videotapes and media coverage.”
The confrontation capped weeks of formulating strategy. Organizers for both sides patrolled the protest area, communicating by two-way radios. Activists from as far away as San Diego and Ventura counties had been mobilized by each side.