Students Defend Clinic From Operation Rescue

by Rebecca Eisenberg

Reprinted from The Harvard Law Record

Friday, November 20, 1992

On Saturday, November 14, about one dozen Harvard Law School students joined approximately 500 other Boston residents in defending local health clinics against a clinic siege attempted by anti-abortion group "Operation Rescue."

Operation Rescue is a small but militant fundamentalist offshoot of the anti-choice movement in the U.S.A.. Unlike other anti-choice groups which attempt to restrict a woman's reproductive freedom through changes in the law and politics, Operation Rescue has taken the fight out of traditional legal channels and straight to the actual clinics. At clinics across the country, Operation Rescue members try forcibly to stop women, patients and staff from entering.

Operation Rescue has been known to utilize such violent tactics as assaulting women at clinics and throwing fetuses that they have stolen from hospitals at women. During the presidential campaign, an OR member attempted to hand a fetus to President-Elect Bill Clinton.

On Saturday, however, the OR group remained somewhat restrained, perhaps because a Massachusetts injunction prevents any group or individual from blocking access to a clinic.

The Harvard pro-choice contingent met originally at 6 a.m. at Gynecare, a clinic on Tremont Avenue in Boston. At about 8 am, pro-choicers were informed that Operation Rescue had decided to target a small clinic in Brighton. Consequently, about 400 activists converged outside of a small clinic located in a residential neighborhood across the river.

The 40 or so OR members were outnumbered almost 10 to one by pro-choice activists of all types. Operation Rescue members were largely white, male, above age 40, and sometimes accompanied by the young children, whom they also gave signs to hold. Pro-choice activists were of all races and ethnicities, and were divided about 80 % female, 20 % male. (The police, who kept a very low profile through this all, were about 95 % male).

Interestingly, members of both Libertarian and Socialist groups showed up at the clinic to defend women's reproductive rights. The Socialist group carried banners that read "Break with the Democrats;" "Build a Workers' Party; "Free Quality Health Care for All;" "For the Separation of Church and State;" "Down with Aids Witch Hunt;" and "Women's Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!"

Libertarians touted signs reading "Pro-Choice, Anti-Tax" and "Pro-Choice and Everything." Both socialist and libertarian groups were about a dozen strong and mostly male.

A 6-member marching drum band composed of members of the Women's Action Coalition paraded through, rapping: "Things were fine, when I was a fetus. Now that Dad's Gone, Mom's money can't feed us. Got no health care, and that's a fact. Now that I'm alive I want my right to life back!"

Even though the pro-choicers lined up and linked arms in order to secure a safe access route to the clinics, a few Operation Rescue members tried to push through the lines and block the route of access. The few men who tried forcibly to shove the clinic defenders out of their way were stopped quickly by the police.

The Operation Rescue members held up banners that displayed pictures of bloody things that were supposed to represent fetuses and signs that read "Clinic Closed." They also crooned religious hymns through a loudspeaker and shouted "Mommy, don't kill us."

The OR voices, however, were largely drowned out by the hundreds of women's rights supporters, chanting "Pro-life, that's a lie, you don't care if women die;" "2-4-6-8-10 . . . why are all your leaders men?" "Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Born-again bigots go away!" and "2-4-6-8, You can't make me procreate."

All in all, Saturday was a failure for Operation Rescue. People who needed to enter the clinic were escorted through the pro-choice ranks by police and activists wearing "clinic escort" vests. The clinics remained open, and women's right to choose remained temporarily secure in the Boston area.

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Copyright 1996 Rebecca Eisenberg