Operation Rescue, going nowhere

Anna Quindlen

June 24, 1993|By Anna Quindlen

LIKE-MINDED women sighed and said, "It's going to be a lon summer." In Minneapolis and St. Paul, where people joke that there are only two seasons, winter and road work, you don't hear that line very much. But Operation Rescue had come to town, and those who believe abortion should stay legal were expecting the summer to be long and hot, as Wichita's had been just two summers ago.

So far, in fact, the right-wing anti-abortion group, which specializes in clinic blockades and provider harassment, has been remarkably quiet. There were only two small demonstrations by local anti-abortion groups last weekend, one a photo op of people praying at the 10-foot-high chain-link fence that has recently gone up around the Planned Parenthood parking lot.

There are rumors that the demonstrators are training, waiting, planning something really big in July. Or, conversely, that they are rethinking, regrouping, perhaps retreating, taking to heart the fact that as anti-abortion an activist as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis did not want them around, saying Operation Rescue was not "a positive element in the pro-life movement."

Wherever they are, whatever they're planning, you have to wonder if those involved in Operation Rescue understand what any sensible American knows: None of it matters.

None of it, not the gory placards or the marches or the harassment or the pamphlets. Ten days ago the Minneapolis Star Tribune printed a poll of 1,001 Minnesota residents. When that poll was contrasted with one taken in 1989, the findings were almost identical, the attitudes on abortion virtually unchanged.

During the four years between polls, Operation Rescue drove the city of Wichita to distraction and tried but failed to do the same in Buffalo. A president who opposed abortion was replaced by one who supports keeping it legal. The Supreme Court upheld some state restrictions but affirmed Roe v. Wade. A doctor was shot and killed, and clinics were vandalized, even torched. There were innumerable demonstrations and marches.

And yet the numbers did not change. The arguments did not change. And the arguments did not change minds. During the last four years I have written more columns about abortion than any other issue. Yet a reviewer wrote that they were among the most static of my columns, that I had not moved the issue. And I could not disagree.

Over the last four years I have read at least a half-dozen books purporting to move the debate forward. None has. Colloquies on common ground are irrelevant both to the majority of Americans, who think this is a matter for individual decision-making, and the vocal minority who see it as an absolute evil. Where in the world do we go from here?

Certainly not to the Rescue folks, who immobilize cities and oversimplify solutions. "If people say they can't afford a baby, we tell them about our warehouse full of clothes and formula," one woman said on the front lines last summer.

Ah, if formula were all there was to a baby, babies who grow up to need sneakers, dentists, vegetables, bunk beds, decent homes and love. Last month a teen-ager who once sat in an abortion clinic for two hours and then walked out and had a baby instead said next time she'd have the abortion. "I love my daughter," she said, "but it's a lot harder than the ladies said at church."

And somewhere else, I'm sure, you can find me the girl who had the abortion and next time wants to have a baby.

That's where the abortion debate happens in America -- in our experience, our lives, in the conversations we have about how much we love children, about how much oxygen and energy and effort they require, about what makes a good parent and what makes a good home.

No matter what happens in the Twin Cities or anywhere else, Operation Rescue is operating in the wrong venue. "Operation Reschedule," some clinics call it, because the patients come back after the demonstrators are gone, or go somewhere else instead. Those demonstrators may eventually cost the Twin Cities thousands of dollars in police overtime, clog up the court system and take a toll on doctors, nurses and patients at clinics.

They are wasting their time and ours. The venue is not the streets, or even the womb. It is the mind.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.

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