TWO pastors arrested as abortion protesters wrap up campaign against late-term clinic

Saturday, July 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Two pastors were arrested Saturday morning as they knelt in the street after the final march of a weeklong anti-abortion protest.

Coordinated by Operation Save America, the anti-abortion Summer of Mercy renewal campaign targeted one of the few clinics in the nation that perform late-term abortions.

After marching Saturday morning, hundreds of abortion opponents knelt and prayed on the sidewalks across the street from the clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller while abortion-rights supporters gathered behind fences at the clinic entrance and across the street.

Tiller's clinic was bombed in 1985, and Tiller was shot and wounded outside the clinic in 1993, two years after the first Summer of Mercy march was staged in Wichita.

As the two men knelt and prayed in the street Saturday, demonstration leaders shouted orders to the others to stay back. The two men were arrested for obstruction and led to a police car without incident.

``A lot more people wanted to join them, but we felt two pastors from Wichita would send a more powerful message,'' said leader Pat Mahoney.

Operation Save America won a court fight with the city on Monday when a federal judge ruled that the city's denial of a parade permit violated the organization's First Amendment rights. The judge said the demonstrators could march near the clinic each day for an hour in the morning and again in the afternoon.

After the arrests Saturday, demonstrators gathered outside City Hall, reading a proclamation stating, among other things, that ``all children, from conception forward, are human beings.''

Police estimated about 340 people participated in the morning parade. They have been conducting hour-long parades each morning and afternoon, and planned to go home Saturday.

Besides the pastors, the only arrests this year have involved two abortion-rights supporters charged Wednesday with misdemeanor battery for a minor altercation with the demonstrators. The 1991 Summer of Mercy protests lasted more than 45 days and resulted in 2,700 arrests.