Abortion-rights activists protest loudly outside anti-abortion church service Demonstration in Minnesota spurs 10 arrests

July 12, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

About 200 abortion rights activists, including men dressed in women's clothing, gay men and lesbians, staged a "kiss-in" and confrontational protest yesterday outside a St. Louis Park, Minn., church.

Police arrested six abortion-rights supporters on charges of assault and obstructing traffic. Four others were arrested on charges of stalking Operation Rescue members later.

The protesters demonstrated outside Calvary Temple, local headquarters for Operation Rescue, as about 300 churchgoers worshiped inside.

A woman from Chicago read from a Bible and attacked one verse after another for portraying "women as property." Protesters shouted obscenities, blocked cars and pushed and kicked police, who responded by spraying the chemical Mace and calling reinforcements.

Protesters beat drums, blew whistles and carried banners attacking the national anti-abortion organization during the two-hour demonstration. Some had green or purple hair and shirts blaring obscenities. Other young men were dressed in drag, including lingerie.

About three dozen police officers worked to control the crowd as churchgoers arrived for a 10 a.m. service.

After the service and protest, 22 Operation Rescue members drove to the homes of two Twin Cities abortion doctors, where they prayed. Four abortion-rights supporters followed the Rescue caravan and were arrested on stalking charges.

Mainstream abortion-rights supporters denounced the group's tactics.

The Network to Ensure Access, a coalition of Twin Cities abortion rights groups that has trained 2,000 volunteers to help ensure abortion clinic access, was not part of the morning protest.

"This fringe element that believes in the type of tactics carried out by Operation Rescue by no means represents the NEA," said Amy Phenix, the group's representative. "Our volunteers have agreed not to be confrontational."

Organizers said the rally was designed to tell Operation Rescue it isn't welcome in Minnesota. But many protesters, including four of those arrested, came from out of state. Some traveled from Chicago, New York and Detroit and planned to stay all week.

The crowd became unruly during the arrests. When officers responded with Mace, four were arrested for pushing and kicking the arresting officers. Three who were booked listed a Chicago address, and a fourth a Detroit address. About half the crowd soon dispersed, some upset by the arrests.

"There were a lot of peaceful people here who wanted a peaceful rally," said Brian Dellent, a member of the Twin Cities Action Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. "They weren't prepared to see arrests."

Church members had been instructed not to talk with the press, they said.

The rowdy protest didn't seem to disrupt the church service. The Rev. Gordon Peterson, field director for Operation Rescue's 12-week training camp, told his congregation it was important for them to see the other side in action.

"We don't want to applaud these people," he said from the pulpit. "But we do want to pray for them."

After the service, Operation Rescue supporters drove to the homes of Dr. Mildred Hanson in Edina and Dr. Mark Tanz in Minneapolis, who perform abortions. Along the way, the caravan stopped at the St. Louis Park Police Department, where Rescue leaders lodged a complaint that abortion-rights supporters were following them and should be arrested for stalking.

Police later arrested four women on stalking charges. The women were monitoring the Operation Rescue caravan for Network to Ensure Access.

"The only reason we followed them is we need to know where they're going so we can protect doctors," said volunteer Christy Ruggiero, who was not arrested.

Network volunteers said the physicians were not home.

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