Pro-lifers win few converts with protests and prayers

THE blockade of the Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Philadelphia was conducted with military precision. In the middle of Locust Street, a dozen anti- abortionists fell to their knees in prayer. Drivers skidded to a halt. The police arrived and scooped the unresisting protesters into their vans. Moments later on 12th Street, which also leads to the clinic, more anti-abortionists sat down and waited for arrest.

'It's despicable,' said Cheri Carminati, as she watched the protesters being taken away. 'I work in a shelter, and these people have no idea what happens to children born to people who can't look after them.' A janitor in a nearby building said: 'These are wealthy retired people whose families can afford to have a child by accident.' The protesters, pledged to silence, said nothing.

The demonstration was the high point of a 10-day campaign in Philadelphia by Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion group. In seven cities across the country, abortion clinics were to be blockaded in order to show that, despite the election of President Clinton, who favours the right to abortion, the pro-life cause is not lost. At a rally before the demonstration, Keith Tucci, Operation Rescue's national executive director, said: 'Doctors are abandoning the abortion trade. They understand that, if we persist, abortion may be legal, but it may be unobtainable.'

This is optimistic. Founded in 1987 by Randall Terry, Operation Rescue's most famous blockade was its 46-day siege of a clinic in Wichita, Kansas. Doctors' homes were picketed and wanted posters pasted up for physicians who carried out abortions.

However, the venom of the group's propaganda has produced a counter-reaction: the political tide has turned against the pro- lifers. The Republicans believe their firm anti-abortion stance in the election last year lost them votes. The Supreme Court has refused to change Rowe v Wade, the 1973 ruling legalising abortion. The pro-lifers' only real success has been Congressional rejection of federal funding for poor women seeking an abortion.

Operation Rescue is keen to restore its reputation for non-violence after the shooting of a Florida doctor by a militant anti- abortionist in March. At the Valley Forge Hilton, headquarters of its Philadelphia campaign, organisers said: 'Rescuers make a commitment to total non- violence, and silence - except for prayer or prayerful singing.'

The average age of the 300 Operation Rescue activists in the Hilton was high, with a sprinkling of clergy and nuns. Almost all were deeply religious and some had a long history of arrests. One woman said: 'I have been arrested 14 times and spent two months in jail. People don't seem to realise how revolting abortion is. Babies are ripped limb from limb.'

Early next morning the campaigners divided into two groups: those prepared to risk arrest and those not. 'I feel like a draft dodger,' said a woman called Kim, as she joined the latter group.

In Philadelphia, the police and pro-choice groups were also well organised. At three downtown abortion clinics men and women in yellow aprons were preparing to protect their patients. They were organised by co-ordinators wearing green aprons. Ever since Operation Rescue announced its campaign six months ago, they, like the police, had rehearsed their tactics.

Trish Sneddon, administrator at the Philadelphia Women's Center, said the demonstrations were having little effect on patient numbers. She was unimpressed by the protests: 'There are only three or four hundred people, and this is supposed to be the big event for Operation Rescue.'

The main weapon at the Locust Street demonstration was the video camera. The pro-lifers filmed anybody abusing them, particularly if the abuse was anti- Christian. They show the film in recruitment drives.

The clinic's defenders were also equipped with videos, and both groups competed with television cameramen. The constant filming meant that everybody was on their best behaviour.

How difficult has Operation Rescue made it to obtain an abortion? For a woman with money, it is easy enough to buy, but even in liberal New York City a poor woman may wait a month while doctors check whether she has medical insurance.

Keith Tucci's boast, that it is now harder to get an abortion, is true - but only if a woman cannot afford to pay for it herself.

(Photograph omitted)

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn