A federal judge on Friday ordered abortion protest leaders to get out of town and stay out, possibly ending 46 days of demonstrations and blockades at three abortion clinics.
Abortion rights advocates and law enforcement officials, however, stopped short of saying that the summer siege had ended.
“I’m not going to throw my party until I see the plane take off,” said Peggy Jarman, spokeswoman for the ProChoice Action League of Wichita.
“We’re not really sure what is going to happen. We’re just taking it a day at a time,” U.S. Marshal Kent Pekarek said.
The city’s three clinics, the scene of more than 2,600 arrests during the past month and a half, were quiet Friday. A scattering of anti-abortion and abortion rights demonstrators were on hand.
Three of the leaders of the national Operation Rescue anti-abortion group were gone by the time U.S. District Judge Patrick F. Kelly issued his order setting an afternoon deadline for them to leave. The other two left before the deadline passed.
Kelly released the Rev. Pat Mahoney of Boca Raton, Fla.; Keith Tucci of Charleston, S.C., and the Rev. Joe Slovenec of Cleveland from jail Thursday. In an order filed before their release from indefinite contempt of court sentences, the judge said the three had agreed not to violate his order barring protesters from blocking access to two abortion clinics.
The judge also vacated the potential $15,000 fines that the three faced and eliminated the need for the posting of a $100,000 bond pending an appeals court decision on the bond question.
The order for the leaders to leave Wichita also applies to Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry of Binghamton, N.Y., and Michael McMonagle of Philadelphia, Kelly said.
During a telephone conference call with their attorneys Friday, Kelly said it appeared that they did not intend to comply with the terms of their release.
“You are learning for the first time, I think, that you can’t trust a damned thing they say,” the judge told the four attorneys.
Kelly reminded the lawyers that their clients are not beyond reach anywhere, but then said they need not fear arrest unless they come back to Wichita.
Tucci and Mahoney, appearing with Terry at a news conference Friday in Washington, D.C., vowed to return to Wichita, no matter what Kelly said. “Hell will freeze over before I surrender my constitutional rights,” Mahoney said.
Operation Rescue began demonstrations at three Wichita abortion clinics on July 15. The group targeted Wichita because one clinic is among only a few nationwide that perform late-term abortions.
Kelly jailed the Operation Rescue leaders on Aug. 20 for failing to post a $100,000 security bond to cover potential damages caused by the demonstrations.
After the three men were released on their own recognizance, they attended an Operation Rescue rally Thursday night in Wichita.
Tucci said the group plans to target dozens of cities for a weeklong series of protests in November, kicking off several events it plans for the next year. It also plans demonstrations in Houston and New York during next summer’s national political conventions, he said.