Bush Snubs Operation Rescue Leaders
KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE — THE defiant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue came to President Bush's summer hometown on a self-described mission from God, but it was unable to land a meeting with the most powerful man on Earth.Mr. Bush refused to interrupt his month-long vacation Sunday to grant a request to see the organization's founder, Randall Terry, and its chief spokesman, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney. "If I did meet with them" though, Bush told reporters while on his way to church, I'd say, 'Hey, please abide with the law. Don't violate a judge's order and stay within the law.The two distributed a letter they are trying to have delivered to the president. It asks for a meeting to "clarify the purpose, goals and unswerving commitment to nonviolence" of the group. Later, Mr. Terry and the Rev. Mr. Mahoney told a news conference that their group had no intentions of changing its tactics, which include blocking abortion clinic entrances and harassing entering patients. The group has continued such demonstrations at clinics in Wichita, Kan., this month in defiance of a court order. "We have a moral obligation before the God who made us to rescue innocent children from murder," said Terry. While maintaining support for Bush, Terry and Mahoney expressed disappointment that the president wouldn't see them Sunday and said they were hoping for a commitment to meet with him after his vacation ends Sept. 3. The emotion-laced Wichita case has been politically difficult for Bush, particularly since he opposes abortion and since his Justice Department intervened on behalf of anti-abortion demonstrators. Terry and Mahoney rushed to Kennebunkport late Saturday after Bush suggested that the group's tactics had become excessive in Wichita and had "hurt their own cause." In recent weeks, more than 2,200 members of Operation Rescue have been arrested for defying a court order prohibiting them from blocking the clinic entrances. Some have also been charged with reckless endangerment for having children protesters lie in the street. Patrick Kelly, the judge who issued the order and who fined and sentenced violators, is under federal protection after reporting he had received death threats. Terry and Mahoney described their group as peaceful and as misunderstood in the Oval Office. Mahoney said, "Operation Rescue's [members] are not far-out, religious zealots. We don't eat our young." Although they were unable to get a meeting with Bush, Terry appeared on CBS's talk show, "Face the Nation," and afterward both held a news conference with reporters covering the president. Terry likened his members to civil rights demonstrators led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a generation ago. But Kate Michelman, director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said Terry should be "ashamed" for comparing the tactics of Operation Rescue to the civil disobedience of King's civil rights movement. Women trying to enter the Witchita clinics "run a gauntlet of terror" past Operation Rescue demonstrators. "They are harassed, they are brutalized, they are terrorized," she told CBS.