[Video content warning: abortion, graphic images of fetuses, Islamophobia.]
Anti-abortionists are getting ready for the “Summer of Mercy” sequel.
As the political tides change, anti-abortion activists are gearing up for a fight.
Wichita, Kansas may seem like an unlikely epicenter of political activity, but those fighting against the right to choose are hoping to stage an even larger version of the 1991 “Summer Of Mercy” this coming Jul 16 to 23. Like flies on feces, the original protest attracted conservative activists from all over the country 25 years ago, resulting in nearly 2,700 arrests over six long weeks.
The Witchita Police Department is prepping for the sequel to a protest many officers are too young to remember. Seeing the numbers — an average of 65 arrests per day in the historic rally — must be a bit daunting for rookies.
On top of that, Pope Francis has declared this the Year of Mercy, fueling the anti-choice fight.
Operation Save America, the anti-choice group leading the protests at different locations across the nation, has a history of violence. Because of this, the folks who originally organized the protest in Wichita, Operation Rescue, have split from the domestic threat and are refusing to take place in the potentially dangerous fight against the autonomy of those with uteruses.
“We believe that all life should be cherished, from the moment of conception all the way through natural death,” Troy Newman said to Wichita’s KWCH. “We do not believe in killing abortionists or anybody else. We do not believe in burning the Koran. That’s a hate crime.”
Operation Save America is a fundamentalist Christian group with a history of burning Koran/Qurans, chaining themselves to the doors of women’s clinics, protesting LGBTQIA rights (including marriage equality) and supporting the transgender bathroom ban, among other scary things. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Operation Save America (OSA) is an organization with a three-pronged mission to demonize abortion, homosexuality and Islam, declaring that “all three have entered into a pact with death.”
OSA has also called for a war between Christians and Muslims. The organization’s director, Rev. Rusty Lee Thomas, has said that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were God’s punishment for the legalization of abortion in the U.S. The OSA website previously described Islam as a “false religion, birthed from the very pit of hell [that] has led to the eternal damnation of billions of precious people.” OSA leader Flip Benham and his supporters approached Muslims outside of mosques to tell them that “Islam and Christianity cannot peacefully coexist. They are at war.”
Related: Overcoming The Trauma of An Abortion
Despite being a domestic terrorist organization much like the Ku Klux Klan, the OSA does have the right to assemble peacefully. Between 100 and 150 officers have been assigned to the Wichita protest targeting women’s clinics across the metro area. These clinics are spaces for everyone with uteruses — be they women, femmes or masculine folks. Often services like pap tests, birth control, STD tests/treatments, and other everyday preventative healthcare is blocked by anti-abortion activists.
“I don’t think that we are anticipating an event like 1991,” said Police Capt. Brian White. “However, we have to be prepared for all possibilities and we want to ensure protesters have the ability to exercise their rights to protest, and we also want to make sure that we balance that with the legal right for the businesses to operate.”
“We are not here to be part of their sideshow — their circus. This is not fun and games,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women, the foundation that opened South Wind Women’s Center. That center is the only surgical abortion clinic in Wichita — and often the target of anti-choice ire.
“Our work is not to oppose antis, it’s to help people’s lives and give people the health care they deserve,” Burkhart said.