WICHITA, Kan. — Tense moments unfolded when anti-abortion protesters descended on a church attended by an abortion provider – only to be met by churchgoers less than pleased by the disruption.
As part of the first full day of the weeklong Summer of Mercy Renewal demonstrations, nearly 30 protesters went to Reformation Lutheran Church, where Dr. George Tiller, one of the few physicians in the country who still performs late-term abortions, is a parishioner. Tiller wasn’t there.
The demonstration upset many church members, particularly children who saw the protesters’ bloody photographs of fetuses.
Keith Martin said children in his Sunday School class were “crying like crazy” after passing the demonstrators to get to church. “I don’t think any First Amendment idea is being conveyed to them,” he said.
“I think what they would like us to do is ask the Tiller family to leave our church – that is hardly Christian,” said church member David Johnson. “To put those signs out there is to frighten God’s children.”
Troy Newman, director of Los Angeles-based Operation Rescue West, said it was not the demonstrators’ intention to upset children. “Every one of these children understand abortion is murder – that is why they are upset,” he said.
Tiller’s clinic was bombed in 1985 and he was shot and wounded two years after the first Summer of Mercy was staged in Wichita 10 years ago. Demonstrations also are planned near his clinic this week.
The protesters had wanted to parade past Tiller’s clinic twice daily from Tuesday through Saturday. But city officials denied the request and closed the streets around the clinic.
On Monday, anti-abortion activists planned to march several blocks through downtown Wichita to City Hall.
“I don’t think we need to have a civil war over this,” said Wes Wolken, associate pastor of Word of Life Church where some 1,000 abortion opponents gathered Sunday.
But he added, “I think there will be a lot of patience tried before this is over with – city police, us, them.”
Protesters gathered Sunday on the sidewalk in front Tiller’s clinic to pray and preach. Nearby were abortion rights supporters. A snow fence was erected along the property and the curb to keep demonstrators off the streets and off the clinic property.
There were no arrests.
By sundown, the sidewalk was deserted. A city order last month imposes higher minimum bails for people who live outside Sedgwick County than for county residents.
In 1991, the Summer of Mercy ended with 2,700 arrested after more than 45 days of protests and city officials want to avoid a repeat of that.
At the Sunday night worship service, the mood was more about conciliation than confrontation.
Talking to reporters, the Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Save America, said, “Our mission hasn’t changed. Our strategy has.”
Asked if protesters planned to block the clinic, Benham said, “That’s not a planned strategy. Ours is wider in scope and we are winning the battle.”
Demonstrators also targeted Metropolitan Church because of its support of homosexuals, and marched at two churches that have supported abortion rights.
On the Net:
National Abortion Federation at http://www.prochoice.org
National Right to Life: http://www.nrlc.org