Both sides of abortion dispute claim victory in Buffalo confrontation

May 03, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After shouting at each other for two weeks across police barricades, both camps in Operation Rescue's anti-abortion siege agreed on this: Their side won.

A leader of the highly confrontational anti-abortion group said his organization is encouraged by the campaign here and plans to conduct a similar action elsewhere this summer.

As a result of the two-week effort here that ended yesterday, "we feel we've got a lot of momentum," said the Rev. Keith Tucci, an associate pastor of a non-denominational church in Charleston, S.C. "We've drawn a lot of new people in . . . all over the country."

He said the group's next action will come in July but declined to say where.

Abortion-rights advocates, meanwhile, were planning a weekend victory party to celebrate their defense of the area's abortion clinics, where police made about 525 arrests as Operation Rescue activists attempted to block clinic entrances.

In the view of abortion-rights advocates, Operation Rescue failed in its attempt to disrupt the clinics.

"They didn't accomplish one of their goals," said Marilynn Buckham, administrator of a downtown Buffalo clinic where several demonstrations occurred. Her clinic and three others remained open during the protest, and a local abortion-rights leader said Buffalo could serve as a national model of "clinic defense" for communities faced with future blockade attempts.

Throughout the protest, abortion-rights activists massed at clinics to keep Operation Rescue forces away from the doors and away from the women going in.

In announcing their plans to blockade Buffalo-area abortion clinics, Operation Rescue leaders in January indicated they would match the massive effort they made last summer in Wichita, Kan., where nearly 2,700 demonstrators were arrested in about seven weeks and one clinic chose to close for a week. By March, however, local anti-abortion leaders were downplaying these predictions, saying they would emphasize picketing, not blockading.

By early last week, Time magazine had dubbed the effort "Operation Fizzle."

After 11 days of protests, Operation Rescue went into seclusion for two days on Wednesday and Thursday. The Rev. Patrick Mahoney of Boca Raton, Fla., told reporters before dawn Wednesday that the group would conduct "prayer and fasting." Leaders told reporters that the hiatus was a routine part of these campaigns and should not be taken as a sign of retreat.

His warning was well-founded, as some 1,200 people packed an Operation Rescue rally in a suburban parish hall Thursday night.

"I want you to take a look around tonight and take a look at Operation Fizzle," the Rev. Robert Schenck of suburban Buffalo told the cheering, standing-room-only crowd.

After a prayer meeting, the crowd drove in buses and cars to an abortion clinic about three miles away for a 30-minute candlelight vigil where Mr. Schenck and Mr. Tucci made a parallel between legal abortion and the Nazi Holocaust.

"We will cry out, and we will persevere, and we will continue to rescue those who are dragged to the slaughter," Mr. Tucci told the crowd.

On Friday, about 350 anti-abortion activists took part in a demonstration at a clinic in Amherst, a suburb northeast of Buffalo. More than 100 were arrested when they crossed police barricades and headed for the clinic entrance, guarded by a line of 30 police.

Among those arrested was Mr. Schenck, a Pentecostal minister who has been arrested 10 times before in Operation Rescue protests. In an interview Thursday night, he said developments in fetal medicine continue to push back the point at which a developing fetus can live outside the mother's body.

"It seems to be terribly arbitrary to determine that time," he said. "We are not omniscient. With human life, we are better off safe than sorry."

Glenn E. Murray, a lawyer for the Pro-Choice Network, said the distinction is based on a religious principle, which he said Operation Rescue is attempting to impose on the country.

"If they succeed" in curbing legal abortion, Mr. Murray said, "they would turn their guns on birth control and sex education and become the self-appointed ayatollahs of America."

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