Why Wichita Is Not Selma

August 29, 1991

"This has been our most successful event ever," says Operation Rescue's Rev. Pat Mahoney. We would hate to see one of their unsuccessful events. After a summer of massive demonstrations aimed at shutting down abortion clinics in Wichita, the results are in, and the demonstrations have been a failure by every normal standard of measurement.

Some 2,500 of the protesters have been arrested for loitering or trespassing, a handful have been arrested for assault, and a few have been cited for contempt of court. Appeals of the rulings of the judge on the scene have been rejected by a circuit court of appeals. Appeals to President Bush were also rejected. Mr. Bush is "pro-life," but he refused to meet Randall Terry, Operation Rescue's founder and leader, because he disapproved of the "excessive" nature of the actions of the protesters.

There is no evidence that the protesters have been successful in the court of public opinion, either. Just the opposite. Many residents of Wichita, including opponents of abortion, have expressed unhappiness at the cost to the community of the massive and persistent demonstrations. By one estimate, the city has spent a half-million dollars to handle the situation. Citizens there also say Operation Rescue has so drained police resources that response time to routine crime has been lengthened. There have also been complaints because so many protesters have come from other states.

As for the effect of the demonstrations on public opinion, it has been almost nil. A recent poll by the Wichita Eagle and KAKE-TV asked, "Have the activities of Operation Rescue had any impact on your personal views on abortion?" Seventy-seven percent said "no." As for continuing Kansas' very liberal abortion policy (which is why Operation Rescue targeted Wichita), 70 percent favored it.

Mr. Terry has compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr. and his organization to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Tactically, this is correct. But strategically, it is not. Most Americans in the 1960s favored the right of Southern blacks to use public facilities and to vote. But after more than a decade of anti-abortion protests and demonstrations, most Americans today still favor abortion, at least under some circumstances. This spring, the Gallup Poll found Americans favor a new law overturning a Supreme Court ban on abortion counseling in federally-supported clinics by 66-28 percent. Wichita is not Selma and will never be.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.