Challenging a new law enacted to protect clinic workers, 16 anti-abortion protesters were arrested Saturday on charges of picketing outside the home of a doctor as Operation Rescue gears up its nationwide summer offensive.
Later, 50 more protesters picketed in the neighborhood of another doctor who performs abortions but were not arrested because they did not single out the physician and professed not to know which house was his.
The protests came on the second day of a 10-day protest called by Operation Rescue in seven cities across the country, including San Jose. But for the most part Saturday, demonstrations were low-key and were met with counterdemonstrations by abortion rights advocates who turned out in even greater numbers.
In anticipation of the protests, San Jose enacted a law earlier this year that prohibits picketing within 300 feet of a home targeted by demonstrators. After the 16 arrests at the home of the first physician, Operation Rescue changed its tactics and police allowed demonstrators to march up and down the streets near a second doctor’s home.
“We are picketing residential neighborhoods--we are not targeting homes,” said Jeff White of Anaheim, a leader of the second protest. “Today just proves the unreasonableness of the ordinance. It’s a bad law and needs to be repealed.”
The two residential demonstrations were among six staged by abortion opponents in the San Jose area, three at clinics and three near residences of doctors who perform abortions.
But at each turn, Operation Rescue protesters were dogged by abortion rights advocates who trailed them to protest sites and called in reinforcements to stage noisy counterdemonstrations.
San Jose police said that throughout the day, abortion rights advocates consistently outnumbered anti-abortion protesters, at times by margins of 4 to 1.
Nineteen people were arrested in San Jose. Three of them were abortion rights advocates, including Andrew Martinez, better known as “The Naked Guy,” who was thrown out of UC Berkeley earlier this year for refusing to wear clothes to class. He was charged with indecent exposure.
In the other six cities targeted by Operation Rescue, demonstrations were low-key and there were few arrests.
In Philadelphia, another targeted city, Planned Parenthood Executive Director Joan S. Coombs said she thought Operation Rescue was running out of steam. “It’s too soon to call it Operation Fizzle, but soon,” she said.
At one Philadelphia clinic, for example, 250 anti-abortion activists were countered by 200 abortion rights advocates. A short distance away, three anti-abortion activists were met with 170 abortion rights supporters.
In Minneapolis, Operation Rescue protesters were also outnumbered by abortion rights advocates and heeded organizers’ calls to avoid being arrested.
In the past, Operation Rescue has sought to block patients from entering abortion clinics. Protests in Wichita, Kan., in 1991 resulted in 2,700 arrests over a 46-day period.
The other targeted cities this year in the “Cities of Refuge” protest are Cleveland; Dallas; Jackson, Miss.; and Melbourne, Fla. Only eight arrests were reported Saturday in those cities, although 113 people were arrested Friday night in Philadelphia.