A THICK summer haze hangs over Houston like a blanket. Neither the demonstrators nor the police outside the West Loop Clinic escape it.
The unpleasantness raises the irritation level among the defenders of choice, who ring the entrance to the abortion clinic, and anti-abortion forces, who hold aloft unspeakable photographs as they shuffle by with downcast eyes and hymns on their lips.
One activist from Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group, described the scene this way: "The pro-choice people are here to keep the clinic open. We're here to keep women from killing their babies. And the police are here to keep us from killing each other."
During its convention here this week, the Republican Party avoided a floor debate over its platform plank against abortion, which ends one of every three pregnancies in the United States at a rate of 4,500 a day. But clinic confrontations, prayer vigils, and rallies throughout the week proved that the battle over abortion is far from over.
"Mind your own business! Stop playing God!" James Senyszyn shouts at the Operation Rescue forces, while other clinic defenders chant, "operation failure."
Mr. Senyszyn is eye-catching in costume-rental robes. He says his purpose is to criticize the Roman Catholic Church for dictating to people on sexual matters.
Ann, who didn't give her last name for fear of harassment, smiles when asked about her motivation for defending a clinic. "My husband asked me that, too." It's hard to defend abortion, she explains, but until the courts give women better protection from rape and abandonment, "you can't take this away."
Yet Operation Rescue must try to do so, spokesman Ed Priddy says, because Christians are required to save innocent lives by Proverbs 24:11. "We can't just sit back and say, well, we'll let all those children die until we can change things politically," he says. "We have to do both."
Members of his group have routinely drawn jail sentences of two months for trespassing, and one man in California, a sentence of two years.
While that causes the group anguish, "we make a commitment to give our lives before we get into this."
Caught in between is the Republican Party. At an evening rally of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Chuck Bracht, a lifelong Republican, says he will vote against President Bush for handing the party over to extremists.
"George has shown his true colors: `I need some votes, folks.' It's a line that you can't walk," Mr. Bracht says.