US militants fight British abortions

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The Independent Online
AMERICAN anti-abortionists said they were ready this weekend to start developing a British fundamentalist group to continue their campaign of direct action against family planning clinics.

Scuffles broke out at a Birmingham abortion clinic yesterday morning when 16 demonstrators - 12 of whom were Americans, Russians and Puerto Ricans - blocked the paths of tearful women patients. Afterwards Don Treshman, the Texan leader of Rescue America, said a British offshoot of the pro-life campaign would be on the streets by the summer.

Mr Treshman, who arrived in Britain a week ago with about eight other US pro-life activists, said: 'We had planned to set up an all British group in six to eight months time. But the reaction from your pro-life community has been so good, we're ready to bring it all forward.

'There are maybe 150 people here who want to get involved - all they need is to know how. The next major thrust will be British- led and the majority of participants will be British.'

There were demonstrations outside British clinics in 1989, but the campaign died out. The new breed of British militants will be trained in US organisational methods and taught what to do at demonstrations, Mr Treshman said. They will be invited to conferences and protests in Oklahoma, Colarado and other Bible- belt states this summer.

The Americans are openly contemptuous of the mainstream British anti-abortion groups' failure to risk breaking the law by taking direct action.

The Rev Ed Martin, the executive director of Rescue America, who led the demonstration yesterday at the Calthorpe Nursing Home, said: 'The indifference of many British pro-lifers must end, and end soon if we are to hold back God's hand of judgement over England's participation in the ongoing carnage of dead babies and mutilated mothers.'

Mr Treshman made it clear that Rescue America regarded British pro-life groups as a feeble bunch. 'We understand that people have been battling here for 27 years - writing letters to newspapers and politicians,' he said. 'That's important, but they have not saved a single life. The tactics have not borne fruit and every day babies are dying.'

A fast-talking 48-year-old from Houston, Texas, he delivers his theories that abortion clincs are part of a eugenic conspiracy to produce a modern version of Hitler's master race in neat media- friendly sound bites.

Since coming to Gatwick Airport, as a tourist, he has successfully organised a stream of publicity for the American way with family planning clinics. On Monday he was arrested by the Immigration Department, which served him with a deportation order. He was held in custody until being released on bail on Thursday on condition he did not get involved in disturbances while he appealed against deportation.

But his time in jail, the Home Office's anger and the court orders have failed to silence him. Yesterday, after 48 hours without sleep, he was enthusiastically publicising the demonstration in Birmingham from a supporter's home in north London.

Rescue America operates on the edge of legality. It mounts noisy pickets of clinics, tries to 'counsel' patients on the street, produces wanted posters of medical staff and follows nurses and doctors home. A Florida doctor was shot dead after the clinic where he worked had been targetted by the group.

Birmingham was chosen for yesterday's demonstration because the British authorities were expecting a protest in London. A van containing the Americans and a Russian orthodox priest and lecturer from the Moscow Medical Academy arrived at 7am outside the clinic in Edgbaston.

Six barricaded themselves inside the home. Ten others lay down in the drive. Tussles broke out when feminists arrived to hold a counter demonstration. Patients and staff met a cacophany of abuse, prayers and cries of 'scum' as they tried to get past the rival groups, 25 policemen and a knot of journalists.

Eight members of the group were arrested, including Father James Morrow, the Scottish Roman Catholic priest, who wants to prosecute the doctor who allowed the Hillsborough disaster victim Tony Bland, to die. Father Morrow was arrested outside Calthorpe in November 1989 and was later convicted of assaulting a pregnant member of the clinic's staff.

After the police carried off the protestors, Rescue America supporters said they were exhilarated by the 'success' of the action, which delayed work at the nursing home for three hours.

Mr Treshman, who expects the Americans to remain in Britain for another fortnight, said: 'We know that 25 per cent of the women we stop decide not to have an abortion so it is great if we turn people back like in Birmingham. It will be difficult for us to get into this country again once we leave.'

Yesterday Kathleen O'Keefe, who has worked for Rescue America in the US, and was one of the few British demonstrators in Birmingham, said the demonstration was a sign of a new militancy. 'This rescue marks a turning point in the (British) anti- abortion movement,' she said.

Victoria Merrin, administrator of the Calthorpe Nursing Home, said several patients had been turned away, but all had since contacted the clinic. Their operations had been re-scheduled.

'The protesters have caused some inconvenience and have left several patients very upset,' she said. 'But in the long term they have achieved nothing. It is hard enough for these women making up their minds to go through the ordeal of an abortion. These demonstrators have made it more traumatic.'

(Photograph omitted)