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Archive for Monday, July 23, 2001

Summer of Mercy protesters hope Wichita again bolsters nation’s anti-abortion movement

July 23, 2001

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— It was 10 years ago when Rev. Keith Tucci heard what he says was God's voice telling him to bring abortion protests to Wichita.

Back then, Tucci was the national director of Operation Rescue having taken over its reins from Randall Terry three years earlier. But Terry was still an influential leader in the group, and he and the other directors tried unsuccessfully to talk him out of going to Kansas.

But Tucci disagreed and for more than 45 tumultuous days in 1991, thousands of protesters came to the Summer of Mercy in this Kansas community. The arrests of 2,700 people captured the nation's headlines.

"The nation's anti-abortion movement was birthed out of Wichita because of the obedience of Keith Tucci," said Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition of Washington, D.C.

A decade later, anti-abortion protesters came back by the hundreds not thousands under a new leader, Rev. Flip Benham. The relatively peaceful weeklong demonstrations ended with the arrest Saturday of two local pastors for obstruction as they prayed outside an abortion clinic. Two abortion rights supporters were arrested earlier in the week in separate shoving incidents

Its leaders said what happened in Wichita 10 years ago energized the nation's anti-abortion movement.

About half of about 600 people at one of last week's rallies stood up when asked if they had participated in the Wichita demonstrations a decade ago.

Targeted for its protests this summer was Wichita's Women's Health Care Services run by Dr. George Tiller, one of the few physicians in the country who perform late-term abortions. Tiller's clinic was bombed in 1985 and he was shot by an abortion protester in 1993.

Benham proclaimed over the bullhorn during the last day of demonstrations Saturday that abortions will end in Wichita within the year. "You mark these words: they will not be there next year," he said. "That is a prophetic witness."

But inside the entrance to the clinic's parking lot, a huge sign was erected: "Women need abortions and I'm going to do them. George Tiller."

Pat McEwen, spokeswoman for Operation Save America, said afterward that does not mean that somebody will bomb the clinic it means abortion will end when it becomes unpopular and politically incorrect.

"If you bomb it, they just rebuild it," she said.

In 1994, Congress passed the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act which bans the use of force, threats or blockades to interfere with access to reproductive services.

Julie Burkhart, co-chairwoman of Wichita Choice Alliance, said abortion-rights supporters succeeded in keeping the clinic open and said she was glad that this year's protests were nothing like 1991.

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