Fence keeps violence at bay as La. abortion protest ends

July 12, 1992|By New York Times News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. -- It looked as though it might be the most favorable territory yet for the national anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. But a 6-foot-high chain-link fence, brutal Louisiana summer heat and a heavy police presence took the edge off the protests that ended yesterday at the Delta Women's Clinic here.

Operation Rescue chose Louisiana for its effort in part because of the state's strong anti-abortion reputation.

But despite some angry pre-dawn confrontations and jeering demonstrators massed at the fence's gates, the doctor at the clinic said he was able to perform abortions throughout last week's protests.

Yesterday, the last day of the demonstrations, lines of people opposing abortion and others favoring abortion rights faced off in the parking lots around the clinic, one of 12 in the state where abortions are performed. One side was singing hymns while the other was yelling taunts that Operation Rescue's latest effort had failed.

The face-offs were mostly theater, though. The main element of the protest was the fence, as some people on both sides reluctantly agreed. Erected earlier this month by the city of Baton Rouge at a cost of $8,000, the fence surrounded the clinic. Police said it had proved wholly successful in keeping anti-abortion protesters at bay.

Still, inside the clinic it had been tense. "It's kind of like being in a war zone or siege," Dr. Robertson B. Glidden said.

Both sides were claiming victory. Officials at the clinic would not say how many women had obtained abortions, and Operation Rescue leaders offered no proof for assertions that the group had severely restricted the clinic's operations.

It was clear, though, that the clinic had remained open and that the anti-abortion group did not amount to an overwhelming show of force. Yesterday morning, police estimated the crowd from both sides at 700.

Police had expected up to 3,000 supporters of Operation Rescue, and officials of the group had predicted that these protests would be bigger than the two weeks of demonstrations beginning in April in Buffalo, N.Y., which resulted in 600 arrests.

Operation Rescue was hoping to find fertile ground in Louisiana, which passed one of the most restrictive laws in the nation last year.

The law is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

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