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Abortion Debate Brings Houston to the Front Lines

August 16, 1992

HOUSTON (AP) _ The abortion battles in Houston in the week leading up to the Republican National Convention have inspired some unlikely warriors.

Such as Alane Hall, 32, who took a few days off from her job as a flight attendant to stand with those supporting abortion rights.

Or Houston native Deborah Baker, 25, a homemaker who left three children with a baby sitter to demonstrate with anti-abortion activists for the first time.

Or Ercelle Ridley, 37, a mother of three, and a community relations representative for Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, who took a day off to join abortion-rights activists in her first trip to the front lines.

Or the Rev. Jim Clemmons, 46, who left his ministry of 300 at the North Main Baptist Church to speak out against abortion in his first protest. With the attention of Americans this week focusing on the GOP convention, Houston has also become the latest arena for the abortion fight.

Operation Rescue’s plans for protests at abortion clinics sparked creation of Houston Clinic Defense, which meets every morning at 5 a.m. to train volunteers in helping women seeking abortion services.

Ms. Hall was one of those motivated to join the clinic defense team.

″The people that believe in choice have been the silent majority up until now because we never realized our right to choice was threatened,″ she said. ″The silent majority in Houston is being galvanized this week to hit the streets.″

Across the sidewalk from Ms. Hall, Mrs. Baker held a sign reading ″Choose Life.″

″The thought of being arrested frightens me; it really does,″ she said. ″But I must listen to a higher call - God’s law. I hope Houston learns the value of life. This is one movement we need to make a stand for.″

Several anti-abortion billboards can be spotted around town.

But Operation Rescue leaders admit difficulty in recruiting local residents. And abortion rights advocates outnumbered opponents 2-to-1 in demonstrations at Houston clinics last week.

″The bigger the cities, the harder it is to get them to respond. Houston is no different,″ said Keith Tucci, executive director of Operation Rescue. ″Some people just aren’t interested.″

Demonstrators on both sides have been surprised by the enforcement of a temporary restraining order from state District Judge Eileen O’Neill, requiring that anti-abortion activists remain 100 feet from clinic doors.

″It is surprising to me being in the heart of the Bible Belt that we are getting municipal support which is enabling our cause that much more,″ Ms. Hall said.

Four leaders of Operation Rescue have been jailed for violating the court order, which Tucci calls ″political tyranny.″

Mrs. Ridley says the abortion issue has caused ″Houston to stand up.″

″This has shown me Houston doesn’t deserve the image of conservative,″ she said. ″We are showing we have an open mind and are not afraid to say and act the way we think. I think the city’s showing a lot of heart.″

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