Abortion supporters and opponents squared off Thursday in a national live radio call-in program that was a response to six weeks of abortion protests in Wichita that led to nearly 2,700 arrests.
The two-hour program, "Choosing Sides: A Live Radio Forum on Abortion," featured representatives of both sides of the controversy as well as legal, medical and ethics experts. It was co-produced by Lawrence public radio station KANU-FM and KCUR, the public radio station in Kansas City, Mo.
For six weeks starting July 15, Operation Rescue, an organization that opposes abortion, staged protests and clinic blockades in Wichita that led to 2,657 arrests of 1,734 people.
Dr. George Tiller's clinic, Women's Health Care Services, was the primary target of those abortion protesters because he performs late-term abortions.
PEGGY JARMAN, spokeswoman for Tiller, said during the program that Operation Rescue's protest tactics were "abusive."
In Wichita, protestors shouted "murderer, murderer" to women entering and leaving the clinic, she said.
"They have shown to this town, and I think the nation, that they are a group of religious zealots who are trying to cram their beliefs down everyone else's throats," Jarman said.
Mike McMonagal, an Operation Rescue official who helped coordinate protests in Wichita, said the group's protest tactics are non-violent.
"We reject the use of violence," he said. "The violence occurs inside the abortion facility. We are very predictable. We will crawl to these doors, sit there and go limp when arrested."
U.S. District Judge Patrick F. Kelly issued an injunction that prohibited protesters from blocking access to Tiller's clinic. Many refused, and were arrested.
LAW ENFORCEMENT officials estimate that the costs attributable to the demonstrations exceeded $650,000.
In the second hour of Thursday's call-in program, a panel debated ethical issues related to abortion.
Nat Hentoff, a writer for The Village Voice and outspoken abortion opponent, said it was wrong for organizations that object to laws allowing abortions also to oppose contraception.
"You really ought to support contraception," Hentoff said.
If an organization advocated contraception it would split Catholics and Protestants in the anti-abortion movement, said Cynthia Patton of Kansas For Life.
"I don't care," Hentoff shot back.
CALLERS to the panel asked questions and commented about abortion. One female caller advocated the sterilization of women who "aren't smart enough" to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
"Oh my God," Hentoff responded. "That's fascism."
No one on the panel endorsed sterilization.
Another area of general agreement was that the country should implement a national health care program that could help pregnant women, particularly the poor, who feel they have no choice other than to obtain an abortion.