BUFFALO, N.Y. — BUFFALO, N.Y.-- The anti-abortion forces of Operation Rescue, facing strong opposition from pro-choice activists and poor local support in this heavily Roman Catholic city, yesterday suspended their efforts to blockade abortion clinics.
The unexpected decision brought a halt to 11 days of sometimes violent protests marked by more than 400 arrests. But spokesmen for the organization said they might resume their street action by this morning.
Operation Rescue spokeswoman Karen Swallow Prior said sessions of prayer and discussion would continue "indefinitely," but added that more direct action was likely before the operation, dubbed "Spring of Life," ends Saturday.
"We are motivated by God," Ms. Prior said, facing reporters yesterday afternoon outside the St. John Maron Parish Center in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville, where 200 Operation Rescue activists met behind closed doors. "We'll take this time and see what He wants us to do."
Group spokesman Gary McCullough said he considered it "rather unlikely" that Operation Rescue forces would remain cloistered inside the parish hall for another day.
Ms. Prior rejected published assessments that the campaign had failed to live up to its billing as an encore to the massive Operation Rescue abortion clinic blockade in Wichita, Kan. last summer. In July and August, 2,657 arrests were made there in six weeks and one abortion clinic chose to close for a week.
The suspension of street action buoyed pro-choice advocates, whosaid they considered these two weeks a victory for abortion rights and a triumph of their efforts to defend the city's four
"We think we've soundly beaten them here and it's time for them to hit the road," said Sharon Fawley of Buffalo United for Choice.
She spoke outside Buffalo GYN Womenservices, which has been the scene of shouting and shoving matches between pro-choice and Operation Rescue groups. About 150 abortion rights activists stood outside the clinic yesterday morning, holding signs and cheering as passing motorists honked their horns or gave the thumbs-up sign.
Ms. Prior called the celebration premature.
"We are going to take back the sanctity of life one small victory at a time," the Rev. Richard Exley of the Christian Chapel of Tulsa, Okla., told about 450 people at a Tuesday night rally at the Williamsville church. Each woman dissuaded from abortion is a victory, he said.
Three of Operation Rescue's national leaders were released on bail yesterday afternoon from a federal prison in Bradford, Pa., where they had been held for a day on charges of criminal contempt.
The Rev. Joseph Slovenec, of Cleveland; Jeffrey L. White, of Anaheim, Calif.; and James F. Anderson, of Spokane, Wash., had been arrested by federal marshals Tuesday for violating a U.S. District Courtinjunction forbidding blockades at abortion clinics. A fourth leader had turned himself in to authorities in his home area of Long Island in New York and a fifth was still at large.
The February order by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara was issued at the request of several abortion clinics, doctors and the Pro-choice Network of Western N.Y.
It was not clear if the arrests of its leaders influenced Operation Rescue's decision to suspend street action yesterday. People outside themovement believed that the campaign had failed to attract a significant local following, in large part because Bishop Edward D. Head of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese did not encourage the area's estimated 778,000 Catholics to join the effort.
City Council member Dale L. Zuchlewski, who represents the predominantly Eastern European, Catholic North Ward, said that if Operation Rescue's leaders were expecting big local support, they may have misjudged the people of Buffalo.
"I don't think people in Buffalo are really that radical," said Mr. Zuchlewski. "You might get into a debate over a shot and a beer, but you're not going to go yell in the street and get arrested."
Buffalo Police Chief of Detectives Angelo Alessandra said about 450 anti-abortion activists had been arrested on charges ranging from trespass to obstructing government administration to resisting arrest.
Ms. Vogel said it appeared that many people were intimidated by the threat of arrest, the court order and by the violence of abortion rights groups.
Modeling their strategy on efforts in Los Angeles and Boston, abortion rights forces have taken up posts at clinics in the morning and escorted women inside. They say they are trying to keep Operation Rescue people from intimidating the women.
Operation Rescue, on the other hand, designates people to confront women before they enter the clinic, so they may be urged to consider alternatives to abortion.