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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£30,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a perso...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

£45,000 - £55,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified accountant...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor