Hundreds of anti-abortion demonstrators from 22 states were to head for home Saturday after blockading several clinics, in the first of eight "direct actions" leading to the national political conventions this summer.
The timing of the weeklong New York protest, which defied a court order and resulted in 1,500 arrests, was no accident."This is right before Mother's Day, and we wanted people to think about everyone's responsibility to help pregnant women who are troubled . . . so women can experience pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood with dignity," said Julie Loesch, a spokeswoman for Operation Rescue.
"We're also in the middle of selecting a new president of the United States, and it's the electoral season for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. We want to make visible the conflict and controversy generated by the brutal practice of abortion."
The New York protest also schooled out-of-town activists in how to carry out crusades in their own cities, Loesch said. She said Operation Rescue plans to regroup this summer in New Orleans and Atlanta, where they'll try to influence the political platforms adopted at the conventions.
"Neither party has responded adequately" to the anti-abortion cause, she said. "We challenge both Democrats and Republicans to take seriously their obligation to protect the civil rights of unborn children and provide pregnant women with sufficient support, so they don't feel forced to abort by economic and social pressure."
In New York, protesters defied a court order when they showed up by the hundreds at clinics where abortions are performed. Until Friday, the arrests were for disorderly conduct, which Loesch characterized as "less than a misdemeanor. . . . We didn't have to post any bail." On Friday, protesters at a clinic on the high-rent East Side also were charged with resisting arrest.
The court order had been in response to a lawsuit filed by the National Organization for Women.
In the United States, abortion has been legal since 1973. Supporters of the Supreme Court decision contend that legalized abortion saves women's lives, that abortions will be performed regardless of whether the practice is legal.
Despite the arrests and fines of $25,000 a day, Operation Rescue organizers called the New York action "well disciplined" and "completely successful," with several women forced to cancel doctors' appointments at the targeted clinics. They say some women, counseled by "rescuers" on sidewalks, promised to rethink their decisions.
Loesch, who directed last summer's "We will stand up" demonstration in Miami during Pope John Paul II's visit, said Operation Rescue now moves on to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis and finally the convention cities, where there will be "direct action at abortion clinics."
As in New York, their adversaries in the pro-choice movement plan counterdemonstrations.
"This is a graphic demonstration of the length to which the anti-abortion fanatics will go to prevent Americans from exercising their rights under the Constitution to decide the fundamental question of when or whether to bear children," said David Andrews, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
"We have a long history with these people of acts of harassment and violence. The pro-choice community has always taken the position that we will counterdemonstrate to make visible the fact that the vast majority of Americans oppose this sort of behavior.
"Their fanaticism is very clear. They're single-issue oriented. They'll stop at nothing."