Defending Choice in Wichita

Up Against the Anti-Women Preyers

By Osage

Revolutionary Worker, No. 1113, August 5, 2001 posted at

The RW received the following correspondence from Osage, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade.

During the week of July 15, pro-choice activists from around the country converged in Wichita, Kansas to defend the abortion clinic run by the courageous Dr. George Tiller. This clinic was the site of a vicious siege 10 years ago in 1991, when "Operation Rescue" organized hundreds of anti-abortion fanatics to blockade the entrance and effectively closed the clinic for over a month.

"Operation Rescue," which has now become "Operation Save America" (or OSA), recently decided to return to Dr. Tiller’s clinic for their "Summer of Mercy" to, as they stated, "prepare for the battle, and be ready to fight. It is time to go back. This time we finish it."

But this time, OSA would not go to Wichita without the strong opposition of women and men determined to safeguard women’s reproductive freedom! Rebels from Refuse & Resist! and Anti-Racist Action were there alongside folks from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), the Feminist Majority Foundation and members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade --as well as many pro-choice locals who were outraged that OSA dared to return to their town. There were usually about 200 people at the general meetings of the pro-choice activists during the week. On the other side, the major rally by the OSA on Monday reportedly had 600 to 800.

Flying into Wichita, we didn’t really know what to expect. We knew what the antis had done 10 years ago. We also knew that since 1991, seven abortion providers, including doctors and clinic escorts, had been killed, and that’s only the most deadly attacks. Daily, at probably every clinic nationwide, Christian fascists harass doctors, threaten women entering clinics, follow doctors home, vandalize and bomb clinics, etc. But we also knew that this wasn’t going to be like the last time when the Christian fascists invaded Wichita. This time, pro-choice forces were preparing to confront the antis and defend the clinic. Yet we weren’t sure what that would really require of us.

Even though the antis were not scheduled to start their week of activities until Monday, many of us were there days ahead of time to help take the offensive. In preparation, there were clinic defense training sessions run by RCRC and the Feminist Majority Foundation. The night we arrived, we attended one with over 100 people.

Each of the organizations had different tactics in taking on the anti-choice fascists, and we forged a broad unity that allowed for those differences--which was a strength. The youth were rowdy, taking up the sidewalk in front of the clinic with banners that read, "Dr. Tiller’s a hero!", "Honk for Choice!", "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" and signs that remembered those killed in attacks on abortion clinics. We took on the antis, exposing their lies and anti-woman rhetoric, calling them out for who they really are.

RCRC folks formed a defiant, silent presence holding signs that read, "Pro-faith, pro-family, pro-choice." Their presence was a pointed affront to the antis who use religion to place shame and guilt on women for controlling their own bodies. Controlling women is exactly what they’re about--and they made little attempt to hide that.

Whenever the media swarmed around Flip "Venom" Benham (head of OSA), we’d gather behind him with our signs that that read, "Abortion Saves Women’s Lives!" During one of Benham’s press conferences on our first day out on the field, one woman from R&R! tried to stick a bright orange "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" sticker on him, and a photo of that encounter was in the paper the next day. Many of OSA’s national and regional leaders were there (as well as at least one person from the "Army of God," another Christian fascist group). They definitely see how important this battle is--and so do we!


The anti-choice fascists yelled at us about "immoral" sexual practices (basically anything women choose to do with their bodies); the "fact" that women are the "weaker vessel" (exactly what you want to say in front of furious rebel women and men!); and that we’d burn in hell for fighting for women’s liberation. They called gay men and women on our side "heathens" who’d burn in hell if they didn’t repent--which exposed the antis’ hateful goal to enforce traditional values, especially traditional gender roles.

We countered their "Jesus is the Standard" T-shirts with chants of "Women are the Standard!", "The people have spoken! The clinic is open!" and "Stop the Christian Fascists, No Matter What It Takes!" One of the antis was overheard yelling back, "Women are property!"

At one point, an RCYB member took out the RCP’s new Draft Programme and began reading from it, countering the lies antis spread with the liberating vision revolutionary communists have for women and the world. A number of people defending the clinic were very interested in the Draft Programme and were glad to have revolutionary communists on their side. One young woman from Wichita said she had never before thought about what it’d take to actually stop the antis and liberate women for real. Some of the people we talked to had already begun reading the Draft and sharing it with their friends.

Of course, the antis weren’t alone in their struggle to keep women subjugated. The police were there to help them. A journal entry written by R&R! activists who were there said: "As clinic defenders attempted to prevent the antis from swarming around the cars of patients approaching the clinic, the police told us to stay on the sidewalk, to not ‘make trouble.’ Trouble? As we attempted to defend women’s freedom, the cops made deals with anti’s to allow them to harass women with their literature full of lies and distortions. Trouble? …every day women and clinic workers are harassed, threatened, and intimidated. The antis have created a climate of shame around women who get an abortion--a decision that is already made difficult enough by the pressure society places on women to procreate. Trouble? These people are the ones making trouble for women and doctors every day. And today the police in Wichita conspired in that."

The police really got serious and vicious toward us when more rebel-looking youth arrived on our side. They restricted us from doing things they’d permitted earlier and curbed us any time we confronted an anti. When I confronted one anti who stepped up in my face, I apparently used one too many colorful words because the police came over and threatened to fine me for obscenity! One youth said the police hated to hear women’s fury, no matter what language we use.

Then on Tuesday, July 17, the antis’ strategy was to heighten tensions, jostle, shove and barricade pro-choice clinic defenders with large, heavy wooden signs, and cry "foul" to the police every time a clinic defender held her or his ground. This strategy, and their anti-choice alliance with the police, succeeded in getting a pro-choice sister and brother arrested and charged with assault.


The antis clearly put on two faces. One was the peaceful, self-righteous face they showed the cops and the media, with their praying and mournful expressions, flanked by women and children. The other was the one they exposed to us, when they would whisper threats. At one point, I was trying to block one of them with a poster to keep him from videotaping all the people on our side, and he whispered to me, "It’d be really easy for someone to kill you right now. You wouldn’t mind that, would you? Someone could kill you right now." One anti-choice woman whispered to an R&R! activist, "We’re praying more [doctors] die."

Many of us in Wichita learned very quickly that the antis’ silent, peaceful presence was nothing short of a tactic--as they rely on lies, threats and intimidation, and outright violence. Some of the lies our side heard were: "Pro-choice people don’t have children because they’re all lesbians or homosexuals"; "All women who have abortions regret it for the rest of their lives"; "Abortions are painful and dangerous and women die from them"; "Hitler was pro-abortion"; and "It’s racist to be pro-choice." Antis often likened their struggle to the anti-slavery struggle, as well, quoting MLK and even stooping to using posters of a lynching alongside a supposed aborted fetus.

The antis also had other tactics. There were photographers for the Christian Gallery website (which has photos of patients, clinic staff, cars with license plate numbers, and pro-choice protesters). An R&R! activist reported, "We turned the camera on them too! One activist did a video interview with Army of God member Jonathon O’Toole, an anti-abortion extremist featured in the HBO documentary Soldiers in the Army of God. O’Toole [told] us on tape that the killing of abortion providers was justifiable homicide and a blessing from God.… To top it all off, there were reports that one clinic defender was followed home the day before, and a prominent member of RCRC was crank-called and victimized by a drive-by assault at her home. WE WILL NOT BE INTIMIDATED! Doctors and clinic staff risk their lives every day to defend abortion rights for all of us. We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them no matter what it takes."

Some people could get the impression that these antis are just lunatics, but they have a deadly agenda, and their "peaceful, anti-violence" rhetoric that calls abortion murder lays the basis for the real murder of doctors and the harassment of women. How can a woman be expected to make a real choice concerning her reproduction when every day she hears the lies that "abortion is murder," "a fetus is a baby," and "it’s natural and necessary for women to be mothers"?! It’s no coincidence that while OSA was in Wichita, Tiller’s clinic got a bomb threat.

Every day was a heated battle--sometimes it was in front of the clinic, in front of pro-choice churches (including the church Tiller attends), on busy overpasses or in public parks. The RCRC folks and the local churches they represent really stood up to the antis, even when the fascists brought their nasty fake-fetus posters to their churches. The antis specifically targeted the children of the parishioners--saying to them, "Your parents support murder," while pointing at their graphic posters.

Though some of us left on Monday, many others remained in Wichita for the remainder of the week. On Thursday, OSA held their infamous, disgusting "fetus funeral." R&R! activists reported, "A tiny white coffin was surrounded by the familiar bloody fetus signs and a long procession of antis passed by the open casket, picked up the fetus jar, and kissed it! On a grassy knoll in the park, Refuse & Resist! held a pro-choice speak-out to remember the real human lives lost in the struggle for abortion rights: the seven abortion providers who have been murdered at the hands of the antis and the thousands of women who died from illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade. We also gathered to honor the courage of Dr. George Tiller and learned a little about his life from Rev. George Gardner who formed the Kansas Religious Leaders for Choice. Sara Miller, from the National Abortion Federation, told us that George Tiller often waives the entire fee to provide abortions for low-income women. We also spent time talking about our own experiences with abortion. Our stories countered the lies designed to make women feel ashamed for making the responsible choice to have an abortion and determine the destinies of our own lives."

While confronting the antis and struggling to protect the women entering the clinic, we also strategized on how to take things higher, how to push them back even further. When they moved to one corner of the sidewalk, we pushed forward to gain it back. When they sat and kneeled by the clinic entrance in a prayer circle with trumpets and guitars, we entered the center and surrounded them from outside, yelling and chanting and with our own song, "Women have a right to live, women have a right to choose, women have a right to have a child and they have the right to refuse!" We showed them what we meant when we chanted, "Control over women is what you want! Furious women is what you’ve got!"

Being in such close quarters with them like that--with them praying/preying over us, trying to tell us how "real women know their place," was intense! I was NOT thinking, "Oh, they’re harmless." I was thinking, "These people promote the most vicious attacks on doctors and clinics! They want to keep me docile and quiet!" And all the young people I was with weren’t having that! It made me think of the intensity of the anti-globalization protests--and that what these anti-abortion fascists are about is definitely not what the new generation is about!

Alongside the heated battles, we also had discussions among ourselves about who the antis are, what they represent and what their goals are. Some wondered if their goal was to convert us all to Christianity. Some wanted to respect them and hear them out. We talked a bit about how to figure out which is the right side, and to rely on reality and not rhetoric and feelings. The antis have a real way of cornering people, taking their space and finding out personal information from you to use against you, like your name, where you’re from, if you’re religious, or if you’ve ever had an abortion. But it really throws them off when you ignore them or call them out on it.

At night, we countered their vigil and "fast" with singing and eating (with wonderful food provided by the RCRC volunteers). We went to Wichita to keep the clinic open and open it stayed! Despite being often outnumbered, we were clearly victorious. Dr. Tiller hung an inspiring flag outside his clinic that said "Reproductive Freedom Outpost"!

While we were in Wichita, Tiller, who rarely gives interviews, told a local paper, "It is not unplanned pregnancy, it is unwanted motherhood that shipwrecks people’s lives. Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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