Opponents Set Fire at Anti-Abortion Rally

Five people--four of them dressed as the Virgin Mary--were arrested Saturday on misdemeanor arson charges after a Bible was burned during a counterdemonstration to an anti-abortion rally downtown.

At the height of the 9:30 a.m. rally, nearly 100 anti-abortion activists prayed and sang hymns in front of a women's center on South Spring Street.

About the same number of abortion rights supporters rallied across the street, beating drums and chanting, "No peace! No choice!"

Thirteen mounted police officers in riot gear lined the middle of the street, separating the groups. Another dozen officers stood in formation beside them.

California Coalition for Life, which consists of 25 groups including Operation Rescue and the Right to Life League, began the rally in front of City Hall. They marched to the women's center to mark the end of a weeklong campaign of similar prayer vigils, called "Turn the Hearts California."

The vigils were held in front of 100 health clinics from Eureka to San Ysidro and 50 women were counseled out of abortions, said coalition spokeswoman Monika Moreno. "We wanted to turn the hearts of parents to their unborn children," Moreno said.

Counterdemonstrators included the Women's Action Coalition, who dressed in black robes, and Choice or Death, some of whose members wore white robes and blue scarves to portray the Virgin Mary. "We don't think their religious beliefs should affect our legal and constitutional rights," said Kym Frolick, a WAC spokeswoman.

Some members of Choice or Death mingled with anti-abortion protesters and tore pages out of a Bible, which they set on fire. Police arrested two men and three women believed to have started the fire.

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