On Saturday, May 27, the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue converged on Los Angeles and orchestrated a highly publicized demonstration to challenge the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). Jeff White, director of Operation Rescue of California, and several other leaders of the anti-abortion movement mobilized about 100 people, most from southern California, to blockade a Los Angeles health-care clinic.
Twenty-four people were arrested; 22 were later arraigned on charges of failure to disperse and interfering with a business. Two of White's daughters, aged 13 and 15, were among those arrested. As a result, White faces additional charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. As of this writing, no federal charges have been brought under FACE.
Although Operation Rescue leaders claimed this was the first nationwide challenge to FACE, FACE has been challenged numerous times and in every case was upheld as constitutional. Signed into law in May of 1994, FACE was enacted to prohibit violent and threatening tactics which interfere with a woman's constitutionally protected right to reproductive freedom. Peaceful demonstrations, protected under the First Amendment, are not prohibited under FACE.
White and other anti-abortion protesters object to the restrictions on conducting blockades. In a February, 1995 fundraising letter, White rails against Congress and refers to its members as "spineless politicians who won't even defend their constituents' most basic constitutional rights." He tells his followers that FACE is being used to "crush all forms of pro-life speech" and calls for an amendment to the law which would permit "peaceful, non-violent protests" in the form of clinic entrance blockades.
Operation Rescue's unlawful blockade was preceded by evening rallies on May 25 and 26, at Community Chapel World Outreach in Norwalk, about 20 miles south of Los Angeles. Each rally drew about 100 people, including long-time members of Operation Rescue and such anti-abortion leaders as Reverend Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, who lives in Washington, DC; Reverend Joseph Foreman, leader of Missionaries to the Pre-Born, who recently moved to Blue Jay, California; and the Reverend Bruce Murch of Christian Pro-Life Action Network, from Springfield, Massachusetts.
At one of the rallies, Joe Foreman compared the planned blockade, and the expected prosecution of Operation Rescue protesters under FACE, to the Old Testament story of David and Saul battling with the evil Philistine army. He likened "pro-death" activists, politicians, and members of the "wicked" abortion industry to the Philistines, while the "peaceful" Operation Rescue demonstrators were likened to David and Saul, who, while fewer in number than the Philistines, nonetheless had God on their side.
Foreman told the audience: "We are not here to kill the Philistine enemy; we are here to save them. I know that sometimes it seems like it would be easier to shoot them instead of preaching salvation to them." From the crowd, a man's voice shouted "Amen!" and the audience laughed heartily. Foreman went on to describe how David and Saul conducted preparations to go into battle: "It kind of sounds like a militia meeting, doesnt it?" More laughter from the audience.
As he concluded his talk, Foreman displayed the sort of paranoid beliefs which are rampant among the anti-abortion movement: "The government would have us believe that a small family is a good family, but this is entirely false. A small family is not a good family. What happens when a family stays small? The woman goes out and seeks a career so she can be fulfilled. Then the kids are put in day care and government-run schools. This is how the government gains control of our families and our personal lives." He concluded by stating that "there is a new movement to have big families, and people are going to have big families no matter what anyone says."
Next came Bruce Murch, who considers himself something of an expert in "spiritual warfare." Murch exhorted the crowd to "engage in spiritual battle" with "the Philistines" by becoming prayer warriors. He declared that he would be leading the charge on Saturday morning to "confront the mighty evil army." He stated proudly that in order to do so he had left his wife and seven children back home, and was missing his daughter's third birthday, because "God moved heaven and earth for me to be here." The important follow-up question is obvious: why would God take a father away from his little daughter on her third birthday?
Jeff White spoke after Murch. After telling his audience that the up-coming blockade would result in the first-ever constitutional challenge to FACE, he asked everyone in the audience to make the personal sacrifice of risking arrest and the possibility of "six months in jail, $10,000 in fines, and separation from our families, friends, and work." "God will honor your faithfulness," White promised.
Pat Mahoney called to the altar those who would "cross the chasm which separates us from the Philistine army." Roughly 30 people approached and knelt before Mahoney, including Jeff White and his two daughters. Mahoney pointed White and his children out to the crowd, stating that it was a beautiful sight to see a family stand together for what they believe.
Many people don't find a father's putting his 13- and 15-year-old daughters at risk for being detained apart in a juvenile detention facility and possibly subjected to a humiliating body-cavity search a beautiful sight. Neither do many of us find laudable those leaders who claim to champion non-violence, but who consistently invoke warfare imagery to incite their followers to militant action.
is co-director of the Los Angeles-based Institute for the Study of the Religious Right.