Wichita — Arms outstretched, a couple dozen abortion protesters knelt Saturday night on the sidewalk in front of a Wichita abortion clinic and prayed.
Their chorus of "Amazing Grace" was soon drowned out by several dozen abortion rights demonstrators who crowded around them, chanting: "Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate."
Among them was Mark Blacklow, 20, an Antioch College student from Yellow Springs, Ohio. His sign, "Queers for Choice," was tied around his hips.
"The abortion fight is for everyone not just women or straight men," he said. "When one of us is oppressed, all of us are oppressed."
A few yards away, a half dozen more abortion opponents gathered around Carson Keller as the Wichita resident began screaming: "Lord, have mercy on these blind fools. Father, consume these people!"
The commotion drew Robert Behn, director of the Operation Save America group from Buffalo, N.Y., who gently put his arm around Keller as he calmed him.
"How can I keep silent?" a tearful Keller asked him. "Oh, my God."
And so the Summer of Mercy Renewal begins in Wichita, with abortion rights supporters outnumbering the abortion protesters as Operation Save America gathered in front of Women's Health Care Services for 24 hours of fasting and prayer. Altogether about 200 protesters on both sides of the issue were on hand.
But as the vigil went late into the night Saturday, fewer than 10 abortion rights supporters stayed on even as the ranks of abortion protesters steadily grew. But the number stayed at fewer than 200 between them.
One group of abortion foes spent the night repeating an endless round of Hail Mary's. Across the street another group of abortion protesters gathered to listen to preachers. Some knelt and prayed silently. The quiet was broken occasionally by cars passing by and honking, spurred by signs saying "Honk For Choice."
The weeklong event officially begins Sunday with an opening rally.
But the smaller numbers at the clinic did not discourage Wichita abortion foe Bob Lippoldt: "I don't care. We have God."
Lippoldt's wife, Donna, heads Operation Save America group in Wichita, and a sidewalk counseling group it calls Heartbeat Ministries. He said they invited Operation Rescue back.
"As a person that lives in Wichita, I would like to be proud of Wichita," he said. "But it is a city in shame."
Behn said the numbers will change dramatically by Monday morning as more abortion opponents stream into Wichita.
It has been 10 years since the Summer of Mercy ended after more than 45 days of turmoil that saw 2,700 arrests. Police counted 30,000 at one abortion protest rally.
Behn was among those who came here 10 years ago. He is back because women from New York come to Wichita for abortions.
Wichita is home to George Tiller, one of the few physicians left who perform late-term abortions. Abortion protesters around the nation are gathering here to stop him. Abortion rights supporters from around the nation are gathering to support him.
That brought Rev. Monica Corsaro here from Seattle, a United Methodist minister who heads the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She brought nearly 30 people here from around the country to speak out for abortion rights and keep Tiller in business.
Among those who came was Rosemary Candelario, director of the Massachusetts chapter in Boston.
"It is more than a Wichita issue ... every state in the country sends some women to this clinic," she said.