National anti-abortion extremist groups attempted to intimidate and harass abortion providers and patients in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Wichita this July. In spite of efforts to garner national media and large numbers of demonstrators, the protests fell flat.
Operation Save America (OSA), an anti-abortion extremist group based in Waco, Texas, led a week-long campaign against South Wind Women’s Center and Planned Parenthood in Wichita to mark the 25th Anniversary of Operation Rescue’s 1991 Summer of Mercy, a six-week protest during which 2,700 extremists were arrested for blockading three abortion clinics, including the clinic of Dr. George Tiller who was later murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in 2009.
But, instead of turning out thousands, OSA managed to recruit less than 200 people to the Kansas protests, and almost a fourth of those participating were children.
Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project (NCAP) launched a targeted digital media campaign on social media and in the Wichita Eagle to inform residents of Wichita about the extremists coming to protest reproductive healthcare providers. The ads put OSA leaders on the defensive, even before the protests began. Members of NCAP traveled to Wichita to monitor OSA, help mobilize community members, and coordinate appropriate responses with law enforcement.
Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project Director duVergne Gaines said, “Thanks to courageous clinic staff, dedicated pro-choice volunteers, and a robust police presence in each targeted city, all clinics remained open and all providers and patients remained safe and undeterred.”
During the protests, Rusty Thomas, the leader of OSA, issued an open letter to police calling upon them to, “insist their states immediately outlaw abortion, grant the police the authority to shut down any death camp in their jurisdiction, and arrest those who participate in the barbaric act of abortion.”
Instead, the Wichita Police Department worked closely with local clinics – and protestors – to ensure patient and staff access and safety, and invested significant resources to maintaining the peace during the weeklong campaign by the outside group.
“Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay showed inspiring leadership and vision every step of the way, and I am grateful for his attention to everyone’s safety,” wrote Julie Burkart, CEO of Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center. “I would like to thank every law enforcement officer who helped protect our patients, our staff, our neighborhood and our community.”
Following OSA’s protests, Rusty Thomas threatened to recruit local extremists to continue to harass South Wind Women’s Center and clinic staff at their homes. Burkhart, however, is continuing to expand abortion and health care access for women in ‘abortion deserts.’ Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center is on track to open a new clinic in Oklahoma City in just a few weeks. Oklahoma City is currently the largest metropolitan area in the country without an abortion provider.
Meanwhile, protests by Operation Rescue and other groups against clinics in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention and in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention also fizzled.