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Context of 'July-August 1991: Operation Rescue Occupies Three Kansas Women’s Clinics for Seven Weeks'

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Randall Terry, a former used-car salesman and anti-abortion activist, forms a group he calls “Operation Rescue” in Binghamton, New York. Terry is a protege of Joseph Scheidler (see 1980 and 1985). Terry’s organization focuses on what it calls “rescues,” usually full-scale blockades of women’s health clinics. In many of these actions, hundreds of activists will be arrested. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38-39]

Entity Tags: Randall Terry, Joseph Scheidler, Operation Rescue

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Anti-abortion protesters gather on a street corner in Wichita.Anti-abortion protesters gather on a street corner in Wichita. [Source: Patriotic Thunder (.org)]Anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see 1986), under the new leadership of the Reverend Keith Tucci, conducts a seven-week occupation of three women’s clinics in Wichita, Kansas. Some 2,700 activists and protesters are arrested during the course of events. [Associated Press, 7/5/1993; Kushner, 2003, pp. 38-39] The occupation is part of what the organization calls the “Summer of Mercy,” which involves a series of clinic blockades, occupations, and harassment of abortion providers, clinic staff, and patients. The event lasts six weeks, and culminates in a rally that fills Wichita’s Cessna Stadium and features conservative Christian activist Dr. James Dobson. One of the clinics targeted is operated by Dr. George Tiller; Tiller will be shot by an anti-abortion activist in 1993 (see August 19, 1993) and murdered by another in 2009 (see May 31, 2009). [Associated Press, 7/5/1993] Some of the Operation Rescue members arrested face charges for attacking police officers trying to keep order at the clinics. Tucci and two other anti-abortion organization leaders, the Reverends Pat Mahoney and Joe Slovenec, are jailed until they agree to comply with Judge Patrick Kelly’s order not to blockade the clinics. Two other Operation Rescue leaders, Randall Terry and Michael McMonagle, are ordered along with Tucci, Mahoney, and Slovenec to leave Wichita; when they refuse to comply with Kelly’s initial order to stop the blockades after agreeing to it, Kelly observes, “You are learning for the first time, I think, that you can’t trust a damned thing they say.” Mahoney retorts, “Hell will freeze over before I surrender my constitutional rights.” He, Tucci, and Slovenec promise to return to Wichita despite the court orders and again protest at the clinics. [Associated Press, 8/31/1991; Associated Press, 7/5/1993] The Bush administration attempts to derail Kelly’s curbing of the anti-abortion activities; the Justice Department files a “friend of the court” brief challenging Kelly’s jurisdiction in the case. “The position we have taken before the Supreme Court of the United States is that the courts do not have jurisdiction, that it is a matter properly handled in state and local courts,” says Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. [Newport News Daily Press, 8/9/1991]

Entity Tags: Richard Thornburgh, US Department of Justice, Patrick Kelly, Operation Rescue, Michael McMonagle, Bush administration (41), George Tiller, James Dobson, Joe Slovenec, Keith Tucci, Pat Mahoney, Randall Terry

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

The anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986) targets abortion and women’s clinics in seven states, as part of a 10-day event it calls “Cities of Refuge.” It intends to close or disrupt clinics in Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; San Jose, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Jackson, Mississippi; and several cities in central Florida. The event harks back to the 1991 “Summer of Mercy,” which blockaded three clinics in Wichita, Kansas, for 46 days (see July-August 1991), and a smaller blockade in Buffalo, New York, in 1992. City councils and police officials in Cleveland, San Jose, Philadelphia, and St. Paul are taking measures to ensure the safety of doctors, staff members, and patients; Philadelphia police officer John Norris says, “We’re ready for anything that comes down the pike.” Activist Eric Johns and his wife Michelle are in Jackson preparing for the protests. He tells reporters: “We hope to put these places out of business, expose abortionists to their community, embarrass them for what they do, expose staff workers at these places, and eventually shut down the whole isly abortion industry in the state of Mississippi. I think I have a biblical responsibility and am commanded by God [sic] to do what I’m doing.” Jeanie Hollis of the Mississippi Women’s Medical Clinic in Jackson responds: “They will not close us down. If a patient wants an abortion, we will figure out a way to get them in the clinic.” Dianne Straus of the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Women’s Center says she fears more anti-abortion violence, and recalls the recent murder of a Florida abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn (see March 10, 1993). [Associated Press, 7/5/1993; Orlando Sentinel, 7/19/1993] As a result of the protests, Florida Judge John Rudd sentences OR leader Keith Tucci to a month in jail for violating a court order during a protest, and blames Tucci for a number of other “good people” being arrested. Rudd actually gives Tucci six months in jail, but suspends the remainder of the sentence on the condition that Tucci obey the court order not to demonstrate inside a “buffer zone” around the Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne, Florida. Rudd also finds 38 other anti-abortion protesters guilty of criminal contempt, and gives them each six months’ probation. Rudd notes an instance in a videotape from one of the protests, when Tucci screamed that a police officer was hurting his two-year-old child; the officer actually placed a protective hand on the child’s back. Rudd accuses Tucci of “hypocrisy and showmanship.” Tucci calls the verdicts an injustice. [Orlando Sentinel, 7/10/1993] A dozen OR activists are arrested in Dallas, after ignoring police orders to stop blocking access to a Dallas woman’s clinic [Orlando Sentinel, 7/14/1993] , and several hundred are arrested in Philadelphia. [Orlando Sentinel, 7/19/1993]

Entity Tags: Michelle Johns, Eric Johns, Jeanie Hollis, Dianne Straus, Aware Woman Clinic for Choice, John Rudd, Keith Tucci, Mississippi Women’s Medical Clinic, Operation Rescue, John Norris

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Dr. George Tiller, a women’s health doctor and abortion provider, is shot once in each arm outside the Women’s Health Care Services clinic in Wichita, Kansas, by anti-abortion activist Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon. Shannon has a long history of violent attacks against abortion clinics on the West Coast, using both fire and acid to disrupt or close women’s health care clinics. [Washington Post, 1998; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39] Shannon is a member of the violent anti-abortion group Army of God (see 1982). After her arrest, she will tell authorities that her attempt to murder Tiller was a means of “enforcing God’s will.” Police will find a copy of the secret “Army of God Manual” (see Early 1980s) buried in her backyard. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006] In 2009, Tiller will be murdered by another anti-abortion activist (see May 31, 2009).

Entity Tags: Women’s Health Care Services, George Tiller, Rachelle (“Shelley”) Shannon, Army of God

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

A 2002 photo of Dr. George Tiller.A 2002 photo of Dr. George Tiller. [Source: Abortion Essay (.com)]Dr. George Tiller, one of the handful of doctors in the USA willing to perform late-term abortions, is shot to death while attending services at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. The 67-year-old doctor is slain in front of several witnesses by a single assailant in the foyer of his church while serving as an usher at about 10 a.m. Law enforcement officials say they believe the murder is “the act of an isolated individual,” but add that they are also looking into the suspected assailant’s “history, his family, his associates.” [CNN News, 5/31/2009; New York Times, 5/31/2009] Tiller’s murderer is eventually identified as anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder (see May 31, 2009).
Murder Caps Off Years of Violence, Harassment - Tiller’s murder comes after repeated harassment and violence against him, his clinic, and his patients. In 1986, the clinic was bombed, causing serious damage. In 1991, 2,000 protesters outside the clinic were arrested over the course of the summer. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms outside the clinic (see August 19, 1993). During a trial for performing illegal abortions, in which he was acquitted (see March 27, 2009), Tiller testified that he had spent years under the protection of federal agents after the FBI learned in 1994 that he was a top target on an anti-abortionist assassination list. [Agence France-Presse, 5/31/2009] In recent months, Tiller had been targeted by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly referred to him as “Tiller the Killer.” Tiller’s clinic was defaced with a poster titled “Auschwichita,” that claimed Tiller was like Hitler because he espoused Christianity just as Hitler did. The poster also used the term “Tiller the Killer,” and called Tiller an “equal opportunity executioner.” [Sarah Jones, 10/20/2010]
Responses from Family, President, Activists - Responding to Tiller’s murder, President Obama tells the nation, “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence” (see May 31, 2009). Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), says his organization has always sought “nonviolent” measures to challenge Tiller, including efforts in recent years to have him prosecuted for crimes or investigated by state health authorities. “Operation Rescue has worked tirelessly on peaceful, nonviolent measures to bring him to justice through the legal system, the legislative system,” Newman says. “We are pro-life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.” Newman says that Roeder may have posted on OR-hosted Web sites, but says of the suspect, “He is not a friend, not a contributor, not a volunteer.” The media will quickly unearth deeper ties between OR and Roeder than Newman initially acknowledges (see May 31, 2009). In a statement, the Tiller family says: “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father, and grandfather, and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.” [New York Times, 5/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Scott Roeder, Troy Newman, George Tiller, Bill O’Reilly, Barack Obama, Operation Rescue, Fox News

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

A portion of the ‘Wanted’ poster featuring the names, photos, and addresses of two Charlotte-area abortion doctors, distributed by Operation Save America.A portion of the ‘Wanted’ poster featuring the names, photos, and addresses of two Charlotte-area abortion doctors, distributed by Operation Save America. [Source: Think Progress (.org)]The Reverend Phillip “Flip” Benham is convicted of stalking abortion doctors in his home state of North Carolina. Benham receives two years’ probation. Benham is the leader of Operation Save America, once known as Operation Rescue ((see 1986, July 1988, August 1988, July-August 1991, January 7, 1998, April 20, 1998, October 23, 1998, and January 13, 2003). He distributed numerous Old West-style “Wanted” posters that included the names, addresses, and photographs of four Charlotte-area doctors who provide abortions. The court rules that Benham violated a North Carolina law designed to protect citizens from being targeted by “a lone-wolf assailant.” Benham and his colleagues put up posters near the doctors’ offices and in their neighborhoods, placed them on cars, and tacked them to doors. According to Detective Milton Harris of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, “By them handing out the flyers with doctors’ photos on it, it was an indication to us that they were actually singling those doctors out within that residential neighborhood to protest.” Harris adds, “The purpose of the law is to protect that person’s identity against basically a lone-wolf assailant coming in there and possibly doing harm to that individual or that family.” One doctor who spoke during the trial said the posters were “a call for my murder” (see May 31, 2009), said they made him “fear… for his life,” and said he now “gets down on his hands and knees to make certain there are no bombs under his car.” Prosecutors said that the posters were the equivalent of “placing targets” on the doctors. Benham insists that the posters are no threat, and says his only intent was to “inform the community” that the doctor “kills babies… for a living” and has “no respect for life of children in the safety and neighborhoods of their mothers’ wombs” (see 1995 and After, January - April 2003, and September 13, 2010). But Cindy Thompson of the local National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter says that Benham “needs to leave women alone and let us make up our own minds” about whether to have abortions. “This is not free speech,” says Kathy Spillar of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a group that tracks violence against abortion providers. “This is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater. These wanted posters are communicating a threat to these abortion providers, and essentially they become targets of anti-abortion extremists willing to kill.” [National Public Radio, 11/8/2010; Think Progress, 11/9/2010; United Press International, 11/9/2010]

Entity Tags: Milton Harris, Katherine Spillar, Operation Save America, Philip (“Flip”) Benham, Cindy Thompson

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

The Reverend Phillip “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America, once known as Operation Rescue (see 1986, July 1988, August 1988, July-August 1991, January 7, 1998, April 20, 1998, October 23, 1998, and January 13, 2003), is convicted of stalking a Charlotte, North Carolina, doctor. A jury takes a little over 90 minutes to convict Benham. One juror tells a reporter that it was obvious after looking at the stalking statute that Benham “violated every part of it.… He went to the doctor’s house. He went into the doctor’s office and took pictures. He spoke to neighbors and called him a murderer. That is harassing. That causes fear.” Mecklenburg County prosecutors say Benham sought to scare the doctor from practicing in Charlotte. Benham, whose group operates out of nearby Concord, North Carolina, was convicted of the same charges almost a year earlier (see November 8, 2010), but exercised his right to a jury trial. He is convicted of misdeameanor stalking because he distributed posters with a doctor’s name and photo on “Wanted” posters. The posters read, “Wanted… By Christ, to Stop Killing Babies.” The doctor in question provides abortions. Benham also illegally entered the doctor’s home and his clinic to take photographs, and he and his supporters posted hundreds of the “Wanted” flyers around the doctor’s neighborhood. Benham is sentenced to 18 months’ probation and ordered to stop his behaviors. The “abortion industry” and the city of Charlotte have succeeded in “removing our voice from the street,” Benham says. “I can’t speak. I can’t get within 500 feet. They’ve stolen from innocent babies a voice that has spoken for them.” Several other abortion providers have been murdered after similar flyers were distributed in other cities, including Dr. David Gunn (see March 10, 1993), Dr. George Patterson (see August 21, 1993 and After), Dr. John Britton (see July 29, 1994), and Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009). DuVergne Gaines, the legal coordinator for the Feminist Majority Foundation, which provides legal and security assistance to Charlotte-area women’s health clinics, says, “For too long, Benham and his organization have been able to stalk and terrorize abortion providers and their families with impunity.” Benham’s lawyer says he will file an appeal, and says Benham’s actions have nothing to do with the murders of the previous doctors. Benham says he will continue to protest at other abortion clinics; as for the doctor he was convicted of stalking, he says, “There will be other people who will come and stand up for what’s right.” [Charlotte Observer, 7/2/2011]

Entity Tags: Philip (“Flip”) Benham, DuVergne Gaines, Operation Save America

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

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