Meeting Canceled for Fear of Anti-Abortion Picketing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The office of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Marina del Rey) on Thursday abruptly canceled a meeting set for today with local doctors and law enforcement officials to discuss how they should deal with anti-abortion protests, fearing that the meeting itself could become a target of picketers.

More than a dozen doctors were scheduled to attend the meeting with Harman, along with representatives of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, county district attorney's office, U.S. attorney's office and several Palos Verdes Peninsula city governments, according to Harman's office. Officials had planned to meet at 8:30 a.m. in the Rolling Hills Estates City Council chamber.

Harman's office had arranged the meeting in response to tactics employed by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which include plans to picket the peninsula homes of up to 11 doctors who they claim do abortions.

One doctor planning to attend the meeting, who asked not to be identified, said he had hoped to receive assurances from officials that they would enforce existing laws or adopt new provisions to protect the doctors at their homes.

Harman's office contacted news reporters Thursday morning to invite them to the meeting. But Eric Altshule, Harman's legislative director and press secretary, said later in the day that the meeting had been canceled, citing concerns about picketing.

"Our concern is that the meeting will be transformed from what is an informational event for the benefit of the doctors to a political event. Our primary concern is the doctors' privacy," Altshule said.

Before the cancellation, Alshute had asked The Times not to print advance news of the meeting. The Times declined to make that commitment.

Since last year, foes of abortion have taken their protests outside the offices and homes of local doctors, sparking a sharp debate over privacy and other issues.

That debate accelerated April 10 when an estimated 150 anti-abortion picketers protested outside the Palos Verdes Estates home of Dr. Myung Rha, who said he is a family practitioner who only rarely performs abortions.

Although Palos Verdes Estates has a local ordinance against picketing private homes, police said they chose not to enforce it because demonstrators seemed to be trying to provoke arrests.

Some abortion-rights advocates have called for other cities to pass anti-picketing ordinances. But Operation Rescue contends that such restrictions violate free speech, and it has promised to picket more doctors' homes on the peninsula. Most of the doctors it has named are private obstetricians practicing in Torrance.

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