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Anti-Abortion Rallies Quiet

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Abortion foes, beginning a weeklong series of vigils at clinics around San Diego, made good Saturday upon repeated promises that the protests would be peaceful, quiet and orderly.

Protesters, a dozen or so at two clinics in San Diego and at a third in La Mesa, stayed on the sidewalks and kneeled in prayer in small groups. Following explicit instructions by organizers of the campaign, they left rhetoric behind and signs at home, preferring to caress prayer beads, thumb through well-worn Bibles or sing hymns and psalms.

Police reported no arrests. Organizers said there were no serious disputes between the protesters and advocates of abortion rights, who were on hand at all three sites. A fishing net that one Hillcrest clinic had readied Friday to block protesters lay flat on a parking lot, unrolled but unused.

The focus Saturday on prayer stood in stark contrast to other protests staged over the past two years in San Diego by abortion foes. Past demonstrations included attempts at blocking the entrances to area clinics, resulting in hundreds of arrests. About two dozen San Diego police officers were on hand Saturday but were not called upon for crowd control.

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The orderly nature of the protests, and the relatively low turnout by abortion foes, also calmed fears--at least for a day--that the vigils would turn into a campaign of civil disobedience like the one this past month that has shaken Wichita, Kan. Protests there have led to the arrests of about 2,000 abortion foes, including 125 on Saturday.

“Earlier, I had the feeling like this was the calm before the storm,” Ashley Phillips, executive director of Womancare Clinic in Hillcrest, one of the targeted sites, said of the first hours of Saturday’s protests, which began just after sunrise.

Later Saturday, she said, “Now the feeling is like it’s just a calm--that there is no storm.” The fishing net at Womancare, half a block long and 7 feet high, was picked up by orange-vested advocates of abortion rights merely to show it off for commemorative snapshots.

Connie Youngkin, San Diego coordinator of the campaign who last week had personally assured Phillips, other clinic administrators and police that the vigils would be peaceful, said she was confident her word would be good.

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“When we say we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it,” she said while walking around Womancare.

The vigils opened the first day of a week’s worth of rallies planned around the state by abortion foes, a campaign that organizers have dubbed “Turn the Hearts California.” The protests are due to continue at some 100 clinics around California, whenever the clinics are open, through next Saturday.

Protesters rallied Saturday at Womancare Clinic, Planned Parenthood in Mission Valley and Family Planning Associates in La Mesa.

“All the information we’ve gotten is that everything is very, very quiet,” San Diego police Sgt. Mike Davis said. ‘We didn’t have anything that we considered a problem,” said La Mesa police Lt. Allan Joslyn.

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The vigils also are due to be held this week at clinics in San Ysidro, Poway and San Marcos, according to California Coalition for Life, a Garden Grove-based umbrella group for opponents of abortion. The week will wrap up Saturday with a vigil at just one of the six San Diego sites, Womancare Clinic, Youngkin said.

With events in Wichita continuing to attract headlines, San Diego police said they will remain on alert throughout the week. The final rally Saturday will draw particular attention, police spokesman Dave Cohen said.

“We’re aware of the problems they’ve had” in Wichita, “and one of the things there was that there was a promise to be peaceful,” Cohen said. “There’s no reason to believe it won’t be peaceful here. But experience has shown it can turn very clearly, and in a hurry.”

The prayer focus of Saturday’s rallies marked the first time abortion foes had experimented on a wide scale in San Diego with an avowedly peaceful, non-confrontational strategy outside the clinics.

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Attempts to block clinic entrances over the past couple of years led not only to mass arrests but to jail terms and to court injunctions barring clinic-blocking.

Court losses prompted opponents of abortion to change the form and style of their protests. Opting to line up by the hundreds along well-traveled county roads, frequently in downtown San Diego along Harbor Drive, protesters formed what they called a “life chain,” replete with signs and singing. The vigils Saturday, back at the clinics, signaled another turn.

“You’d have to ask (the abortion foes) if this was a change in tactics, but over the past two years we have made over 400 arrests for trespass and failure to disperse, and our conviction rate is 100%,” police spokesman Cohen said.

Youngkin, whose role in protests has earned her 67 days in jail over the past couple of years, said abortion foes are more interested now in effecting change through politics, not the courts, and are committed to “working through the system.”

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The idea of a week’s worth of prayer vigils, she said, was divinely inspired. “We just prayed about what to do, and God told us we needed to pray,” she said.

Despite the low turnout--advocates of abortion rights at Womancare outnumbered abortion foes 100 to 20--Youngkin said she remained upbeat.

“People are praying at home,” she said. “And people are praying here.”

The orange-vested escorts for patients of Womancare, meanwhile, said their strong turnout boded well for the remainder of the week.

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“Obviously, if we had expected it to be this quiet, we wouldn’t have had this many people out,” escort Kim Carpenter said, adding, “It’s a blessing.”


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