OPERATION Save America may extend stay in Wichita

Friday, July 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Anti-abortion protesters may be in Wichita longer than a week.

Though no decision has been made about extending the demonstrations, organizers were talking about the possibility on Wednesday.

Rev. Flip Benham, Operation Save America national director, said protesters will stay if Wichita churches refuse their ``rightful place'' outside abortion clinics.

``God has called us to be here and we will stay,'' said Troy Newman, director of Los Angeles-based Operation Rescue West. ''... We don't expect God to accomplish everything in one week.''

Newman said it would be ``beautiful'' if anti-abortion protests lasted as long as in 1991. This week's protests are scheduled to end Saturday.

The protesters' chief target has been the clinic of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few physicians in the nation who perform late-term abortions.

Anti-abortion protesters were in front of the clinic before dawn Thursday, along with abortion-rights supporters. The groups were more subdued than Wednesday and police reported no arrests or major problems.

Protesters staged their morning parade past the clinic with about 250 marchers and a dozen vehicles.

At one point, a man who was an abortion opponent ran after a woman who supports abortion rights, loudly preaching at her near the clinic.

Other abortion opponents stopped him and the woman went on her way. Benham said his organization sent the man home to Milwaukee.

``It was wrong. That's not representing Christ at all,'' Benham said.

Operation Save America is sponsoring the Summer of Mercy Renewal on the 10th anniversary of abortion protests that lasted more than 45 days and resulted in 2,700 arrests.

Asked about the possibility of an extended stay, city spokesman Mike Taylor said, ``The city would obviously have to respond to that if that's the case. The police would have to stay out there.''

On Wednesday, two abortion-rights supporters were arrested outside the clinic _ the first arrests of protesters during the Summer of Mercy Renewal campaign.

Deputy Chief Stephen Cole identified the two as Joshua Klein, 26, of Columbus, Ohio, and Karen Rose, 30, of Chicago. Both were held on $3,000 bonds.

Both people arrested were abortion-rights supporters, police said. They faced misdemeanor battery charges for allegedly pushing anti-abortion protesters while jockeying for spots outside the clinic, Cole said.

A federal judge ruled Monday that abortion opponents could parade on the street fronting the clinic for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon each day.

Organizers said about 580 people marched past the clinic Wednesday morning. About 100 people later protested outside another clinic, Wichita Family Planning, which resumed performing abortions in June.

As temperatures soared passed 100, the afternoon parade consisted of 43 vehicles and some two dozen marchers.

Wichita churches are deeply divided on the abortion issue. After the 1991 demonstrations, pastors supporting abortion rights formed their own organization, Kansas Religious Leaders for Choice.

Two ministers from that group approached Benham to introduce themselves Wednesday as he rallied parade marchers in front of the clinic.

The meeting caused so much commotion that several Wichita police officers encircled them as the ministers preached at each other and prayed together.

At one point Benham knelt down, urging them to repent.

Benham later insisted there could be no common ground while abortions go on: ``Until the killing stops, there is no common ground between them and us.''

Tiller's clinic was bombed in 1985 and he was shot and wounded outside the clinic in 1993.