Hundreds of people from around the country are expected to converge in Wichita this summer for a week of anti-abortion rallies, protests and prayer vigils marking the 25th anniversary of the “Summer of Mercy” campaign. “Some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life happened right here in Wichita,” said Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group based in Waco, Texas. “What I’m writing in my brochure is: ‘Some of you were there. This is our reunion.’” Operation Save America is a successor to Operation Rescue, whose 46-day “Summer of Mercy” campaign in 1991 resulted in nearly 2,700 arrests as protesters blocked access to clinics where abortions were performed. This summer, July 16-23, the group plans to partner with local churches to organize protests against abortion. Its agenda includes “street activities” outside South Wind Women’s Center, a clinic operating at George Tiller’s former practice on East Kellogg, Thomas said. “There’s a proverb that says, ‘We make our plans but God directs our steps,’ ” he said. “We go to these evil places and address that evil and hopefully overcome it and set the captive free.”
Except there are no captives that need to be set free, and there won’t be, ironically, until Operation Save America comes to town and resumes their place caterwauling in the street and generally making life miserable for abortion providers and patients, but accomplishing nothing else. Which is as much as they accomplished the first time in 1991.
In a post discussing the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, reporter Mary Mapes reflected on the protest:
These “rescuers” — sweaty mobs of zombie-like true believers — swarmed across the street in front of the clinic like angry ants. They crawled over the hot asphalt toward his office on their hands and knees. They collapsed onto the stairs, chained themselves to the fence, shrieked prayers and threats and bellowed the Biblical equivalent of evil spells at anyone who approached the place. They fell lifelessly to the ground, some of them swooning and crashing spectacularly to earth. When I went to Wichita to cover this, I thought I would be assigned there for a day or two. But this became more than a single protest. It turned out to be the birthplace of heartland civil disobedience against abortion and it went on and on and on.
For nearly three weeks now, this city has become the most vivid symbol of an emboldened anti-abortion movement as members of Operation Rescue focus on the city’s three abortion clinics, flinging themselves under cars, sitting by the hundreds at clinic doorways and blocking women from entering as they read them Scripture. The confrontations have resulted in more than 1,600 arrests and the closing of all three abortion clinics for more than a week in late July. The city has had to assign nearly a quarter of its police force to control the protests, and a Federal judge earlier this week ordered Federal marshals to keep the clinics open. The confrontations show no sign of abating, and some doctors have had to perform abortions in the predawn hours to avoid disruption. Leaders of the protest say they plan to stay indefinitely.
As a Wichitan who witnessed the protests in 1991 (though I was in middle school at the time) and who lives here now, there’s one word that describes my immediate feeling about this: dread.