Wichita Wichita doctor George Tiller told supporters gathered at his clinic Saturday morning that abortion rights are fragile, as he marked the 29th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision by performing first-trimester abortions for free.
"This is an alert. It is a wakeup call," Dr. George Tiller told about 65 abortion rights supporters who gathered on a freezing Saturday morning in a tent erected on his clinic's parking lot.
"We are sort of a huddled mass here together, a few of us arrayed against a vast enemy," he said. "But what are we armed with? We are armed with our attitude and our conviction that men and women are reproductively equal."
Event marks anniversary
To mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade event, Tiller performed free first-trimester abortions for low-income women. Some 38 abortions were scheduled Saturday, including 18 free first-trimester abortions, the clinic said.
He also handed out T-shirts, buttons and food to abortion supporters gathered underneath a heated tent while music blared from speakers inside.
Outside the stockade fence that rings the clinic, protester Troy Newman was joined by about 130 abortion protesters who prayed, sang and carried signs.
"We realize there is a window of opportunity now is the time to make a stand for Jesus Christ," Newman said.
Newman, one of the national leaders for Operation Save America, said he moved to Wichita last week because Tiller's clinic was located here.
"I believe God is calling me here to bring a message of life and hope to the city of Wichita, but particularly to George Tiller," he said.
Protester Cedric Boehr said he was saddened by the free abortions, and said Tiller's well-publicized celebration showed that abortion opponents were having an effect. "The pressure on them of our constantly being out here is coming out," he said.
The Supreme Court handed down the decision legalizing abortion on Jan. 22, 1973.
Tiller said abortion protesters today have the support of the president, Attorney General John Ashcroft and the U.S. House of Representatives. But he said the greatest danger is in the U.S. Supreme Court, where the appointment of just one more abortion opponent could end legalized abortions in the nation.
"The reproduction rights privilege it's supposed to be a right, but it is a privilege hangs by a thread," he said. "This is a fragile thread that is going to be determined by the coming elections."
Doctor often targeted
Tiller often has found himself the focus of anti-abortion protesters because he is one of the few physicians who performs late-term abortions. His clinic was bombed in 1985 and he was shot in both arms by an abortion protester in 1993.
The 1991 "Summer of Mercy" campaign, which resulted in nearly 2,700 arrests, targeted his clinic, as did a protest last summer commemorating the 10th anniversary of the earlier campaign.
Among the clinic's supporters who gathered to mark the anniversary was LeRoy Carhart, the Nebraska abortion doctor who successfully challenged Nebraska's ban on so-called partial-birth abortions.
"This clinic has weathered the opposition probably more than any other place in the United States and they have done it so well," Carhart said.
Tiller told his supporters he had received a message from Jesus, in the form of a button that read: "Jesus says, this clinic stays open."
Tiller said he offered the free abortions to protest that the poorest women have been denied abortions because federal money pays for abortions for a low-income woman only when the pregnancy threatens her life or is the result of rape or incest.
Abortion protester Jackie Bevilacqua was among the Catholic high school students who came to protest against Tiller and the free abortions he was offering.
"He has been gloating over it all over town no remorse, no shame," she said.
Jeff Morris has joined abortion protesters two or three times in the past, and decided to come out to the clinic Saturday after reading that Tiller had offered the free abortions.
"The cost may be free, but the ramifications are not free ... long-term, it is a painful decision, he said.
Morris said he was saddened by the abortions, and felt guilty if he did not come out to protest: "Folks out there are laughing and dancing like it is a party, and it is so sad."