WICHITA, Kan. -- The intense struggle over abortion continued yesterday, but this time it was between thousands of abortion opponents attending a rally at a football stadium and a small airplane circling overhead.
In the sky, the plane pulled a sign: "Go Home. Wichita is Pro-Choice." On the ground, the crowd, estimated by the police at 25,000, shouted back, their voices drowning out the buzz of the plane: "We are home. We are home."
It was a moment of humor tinged with anger and defiance on both sides after weeks of protests at the city's three abortion clinics.
The rally dwarfed the gathering of about 5,000 supporters of a woman's right to an abortion that was held downtown on Saturday.
There have been more than 2,600 arrests in the protests, including 65 yesterday morning during a confrontation with police at one of the clinics just hours before the start of the "Hope for the Heartland Rally."
The Rev. Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network brought the huge crowd to its feet when he declared, "We will not rest until every baby in the United States is safe in his mother's womb."
Mr. Robertson also spent considerable time criticizing the federal judge, Patrick F. Kelly, who issued an order late last month prohibiting the blocking of the clinics' gates, an order that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has since upheld.
Judge Kelly also called in U.S. marshals to enforce the injunction and has jailed several leaders of the protests organized by the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
"August 1991 is the month when oppression collapsed in the Soviet Union," Mr. Robertson said. "And August is also the month when a federal judge was able to oppress brutally the rights of innocent children and the people who protect them. We're here to do something about that brutality."
Thousands of people stood in the blistering heat waiting to get into the rally at Cessna Stadium on the campus of Wichita State University.
The Roman Catholic bishop of Wichita, the Most Rev. Eugene J. Gerber, told the crowd: "We come together to reaffirm that abortion is an abominable crime against God and the entire human family."
The rally was organized by a coalition of local anti-abortion groups, and organizers said that Operation Rescue played no official role.
Operation Rescue has said that after yesterday's rally its leaders would leave town and turn over management of the protests to local residents. But exactly when that will happen is unclear. Three of the group's top leaders are in jail.
Earlier yesterday, more than 100 abortion opponents tried to block the gates of a clinic, Wichita Family Planning, resulting in 65 arrests and charges that the police used excessive force, including chemical repellent.
Family Planning staff members tried to open the clinic shortly after 7 a.m., but protesters, alerted to the plan, blocked the clinic's entrance.