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Abortion Protests Draw Little Street-Level Support

April 15, 1995

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Three years ago, Operation Rescue drew thousands of followers to Louisiana for a weeklong anti-abortion protest. This year, the daily turnout has been measured in dozens.

``We’ve had almost as many police as demonstrators all week,″ police Maj. Howard Robertson said Saturday. ``We were prepared for the worst, but it’s been a real low-key thing.″

In 1992, a weeklong anti-abortion demonstration outside a Baton Rouge clinic attracted about 1,700 Operation Rescue members a day.

Saturday’s final demonstration paled in comparison: About 80 members of Operation Rescue showed up at one clinic, along with about 50 abortion rights activists.

``They’ve definitely bottomed out,″ said Janet Arenz, director of the national clinic defense project of the Los Angeles-based Feminist Majority Foundation.

Arenz, who was in town to train ``clinic defenders,″ said there’s been a steady decline at demonstrations.

``We’re seeing it all over the country _ people just aren’t getting involved in the extremist groups,″ Arenz said.

Shootings of abortion doctors in Massachusetts and Florida have knocked down Operation Rescue’s numbers, said the Rev. Bill Shanks, a Louisiana organizer for the anti-abortion group.

``The people who did that haven’t anything to do with our movement,″ Shanks said Saturday. ``But it hurt our cause as well as giving the `pro’ people the martyr they wanted.″

Fears of violence kept many of the religious Operation Rescue supporters off the streets, although demonstrations were orderly, he said.

At least 80 police officers and two dozen sheriff’s deputies kept watch throughout the week at three clinics and two doctors’ homes, at a cost to the city of $140,000.

Operation Rescue supporters sang, prayed and preached Saturday on one side of a clinic and abortion-rights supporters stayed in another area. Police stood in a neutral zone in between.

Only one person was arrested _ a man accused of throwing a beer can that struck an abortion-rights supporter.

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