By John S. Collins
Editor’s Note: John Collins of Tampa, Florida, a freelance photographer, went to Wichita to cover the Operation Rescue story. Believing that the national media had little to say that wasn’t skewed toward the pro-abortion side; and little to say that didn’t include a distortion of the facts, Collins investigated the Operation Rescue activities in Wichita. In addition to taking many revealing photos, he has compiled a story which accurately describes what took place on the pro-life side. Since so much of what is supposedly “objective reporting” by trained journalists pales when politicized issues come to the forefront, we wanted to include the “other side of the story.” By no means are we claiming to be non-partisan on the issue of abortion issue, but merely factual – an element that has been missing from the reporting from Wichita.
The recent events in Wichita, Kansas have put it on the front page of virtually every major publication in the country. Operation Rescue has been blocking the doors to three abortion clinics. A federal judge has stepped in, possibly beyond his jurisdiction, to attempt to stop the protests. He has levied unprecedented fines against the organization, ordered the leaders arrested, and sentenced those arrested beyond any reasonable length of time.
On August 25, Operation Rescue vowed to pull out, if their leaders were released. The “final” weekend proved to be filled with major events and more controversy than any other.
In the midst of heavy police harassment, thousands of rural Kansas residents poured into Wichita Saturday morning to parade around the city in their tractors, trucks and cars.
The parade allowed the rural residents to show their views on the abortion issue and it gave them an opportunity to thank the organizations, including Operation Rescue, who have been in the city for the past month. “We just wanted to show our support for them,” said Donna Terry of Harper, a small city about 40 miles southwest of Wichita.
The parade route covered about 20 miles and was full of pro-life vehicles the majority of the way. Trucks, with signs saying “Farmers for Life,” “The heartland is pro-life” and “Stop Killing Babies,” were cheered on as they drove through town. There were only about ten groups of vocal people who were pro-abortion, over the 20 mile route.
A large group gathered downtown at the corner of Waco and Douglas, where a Pro-choice/NOW rally was breaking up. Hundreds of pro-choicers were there shouting: “Go back to the farm!” But these farmers were not going anywhere until their message got through.
One tractor had an incinerator on it and a wheelbarrow full of dolls, with a sign that said “Hitler 6; America 27,” referring to the millions of dead babies aborted each year in America.
The parade route continued down Kellog Street where the office of George Tiller is located. This clinic became the center of controversy because it does abortions in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. One truck, with three children in the back, had a sign that said: “Here’s three you didn’t get, Tiller.”
Hundreds of pro-lifers, about 25 pro-choicers and 50 police officers were gathered on the sidewalks in front of the office. The pro-lifers waved support and yelled, “Thanks for coming!” to the passing parade. The crowd was made up of people of all ages, including some senior citizens. One man played hymns on his trumpet, right outside the clinic door.
While much of the controversy in Wichita has been over the belief that most of the members of the blockade were from out of state. About 95% of the vehicles had Kansas tags.
One of the participants in the parade was Doyle Terry, a former police officer in Wichita for 25 years. Terry said that the actions of the police department in Wichita embarrassed him so much, he was “reluctant to admit that I am a former officer.” He also said: “If an officer under me had kicked the protesters, like I saw on TV last night, they wouldn’t have been on my force anymore.”
In another van, Loretta Ellerbee, a seasoned rescuer from San Antonio, Texas, talked about the pro-choice children she saw in front of Dr. Tiller’s office. “It breaks my heart to see their parents brainwashing them, saying that killing is alright.”
While Maureen Moore, a pro-choicer from Wichita, admitted the group was outnumbered at the clinic, she added that “there was a big rally downtown with about 400 people.”
The rally she was referring to was attended by 3000 people, even though nationally known pro-choice advocates such as Eleanor Smeal were brought in from around the country. Since the abortion clinics closed that Saturday, the pro-life supporters were not attending a rescue. A large portion of that crowd was curious pro-life supporters.
Later that evening, a pro-life rally and concert downtown was attended by 10,000 pro-life supporters. Hosted by musician, Rich Mullen, who lives in Wichita, the concert drew very little media attention. One local news broadcast even estimated the crowd at 2500. Mike Stand, of the Altar Boys, flew in from California to let the crowd know that the rescuers from California supported their efforts. Also performing were Cause and Effect, a rap group from Chicago, and several local singers and speakers.
During the concert, on the other side of a small hill, there was a temporary grave yard. The headstones were dedicated to women who have died during abortions, since it has been legal. The headstones had newspaper clippings attached with stories about the clinics and women.
As the celebration from the stage continued, the crowd was reminded that there that there were those still in jail because of their attempts to save babies. A prayer vigil at the jail was announced immediately following the concert.
Outside the jail, police officers were leaving the work, while Christians of many different backgrounds joined together to pray. This crowd dispersed only to be replaced by another crowd which came to continue the vigil through the night.
As the prayer vigil continued outside the jail, back at the Wichita Plaza Hotel, the command center for Operation Rescue worked quickly to get information out. A sign on the door read: “Meet at the deck at 6:30 AM – Emergency! BABIES LIVES are at stake.”
As the sun came up the next morning, car loads of rescuers quietly left the hotel. Their destination: The Wichita Family Planning Center. Typically closed on Sundays, the clinic would open to make up for money lost by being closed by Operation Rescue on Saturday. The rescue had no resistance at first, because no one expected it. The doors to the clinic were blocked off by 7 AM. The sidewalks were crowded with around 300 protesters carrying signs. When the abortionist and his entourage of workers arrived at 8:30 AM they had to wait for the police to clear the doorways.
On the sidewalks, crowds prayed and sang songs of hope. The crowd was made up of several groups, including Operation Rescue, Hope for the Heartland, and Sidewalk Counselors. The crowd at the door locked arms and prayed. A Wichita Police officer maced the peaceful protesters. The same officer, while attempting to pull the crowd apart began punching an elderly man. After realizing he was being videotaped, the officer stopped and backed away.
Dr. Christopher Deatherage, a member of the Reformed Christian Church, a sect similar to the Amish, brought his family from Chamois, Missouri. It seemed odd to observers to see a man dressed in Amish style clothes to be at the rescue. He explained: “We obey the law in every way possible. We do not speed. We do not steal. But when man’s law comes above God’s law, you have to do something. We attempt to do it as reverently and lovingly as possible. But the killing must be stopped.”
Around 9 AM, a black female, her mother, and a friend wrapped towels around their heads and ran past the protesters into the clinic. The protesters offered her whatever she needed if she would change her mind and not have an abortion. Twenty minutes later, she came out and said she could not go through with it. This would be the 30th baby saved since Operation Rescue came to Wichita.
Later, a teenage girl who was being forced by her mother to have an abortion came to the clinic. She got to the rescuers and was taken to a safe house to continue her pregnancy. Life number 31 was saved. This brave girl was the one who tipped off the Operation Rescue that the clinic would be open on Sunday.
The herds of media quickly left the clinic to rush to Cessna Stadium at Wichita State University. One of the largest pro-life rallies in history was taking place. A crowd of 15,000 was expected. As Mary Wilkinson, spokesperson for Hope for the Heartland began the rally, cars were still backed up for miles, trying to park.
Wilkinson started the afternoon, by thanking Operation Rescue for coming to Wichita. This set off a standing ovation that lasted three minutes. It was clear that, contrary to the plane flying overhead pulling a banner that proclaimed that Wichita is pro-choice, this city is very opposed to abortion.
By the time Pat Robertson spoke, about 30,000 people had crowded into the stadium, sitting in the stands and in the the grassy end zones areas. Robertson drew several standing ovations during his speech. The most rousing came when he called for people to back Representative Robert Dornan’s move to impeach Judge Kelly. Other speakers included: Beverly LaHaye, president of Concerned Women for America; Dr. Paul Davis, director of the 130 doctor coalition, Physicians for Life; Don Wildmon, president of the American Family Association; and a host of local ministers from several denominations.
As the rally came to a close, it was clear that the people of Wichita will work together to make Wichita the first major abortion-free-city in America. Father Jim Connely said, “At first I didn’t think it was possible, but now I believe we can do it. It won’t be easy. It’s a long road. But we don’t want abortion to be what Wichita is known for anymore.”