Abortion opponents detained outside Jackson clinic

Published 6:51 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2006

At least four anti-abortion demonstrators were cited by police Monday after they carried their protest against Mississippi’s only operating abortion clinic to a sidewalk in front of nearby businesses.

—The protest, one of several activities being carried out in Jackson this week by the anti-abortion group Operation Save America, was held at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization clinic shortly before a larger rally at the state Capitol in downtown Jackson.

Dozens of people, including parents with small children, took part in the Capitol rally led by the Rev. Philip L. “Flip” Benham, director of the organization that was formerly known as Operation Rescue.

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Lawrence Reves, 53, traveled with his wife and three adopted children from Palm Bay, Fla. to attend the anti-aboriton rally.

“I’d love for Mississippi to be the first state to get rid of abortion,” Reves said.

Rally participants chanted and exchanged shouts with a smaller group of more than 35 pro-abortion protesters. At one point, the pro-abortion group was moved from a sidewalk to the Capitol lawn. Anti-abortion leaders used a battery-powered sound system to get their message through the crowd noise.

Streets near the south side of the Capitol were closed, and Capitol police and other law enforcement officers kept the opposing groups apart. Protesters on each side attempted to walk over to the opposing groups, only to be blocked by police.

Melody Drnach, a vice president with the National Organization for Women, said she joined the pro-abortion gathering to provide a response to Operation Save America’s push to close the clinic.

Drnach said the clinic serves low-income women who cannot afford a private physician.

Monday morning, about 50 people gathered in front of the clinic, several holding large signs showing aborted fetuses. At least four people were cited for violations of their city permit.

Small groups of protesters also picketed the entrances to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. It was unclear why the teaching hospital was targeted.

Operation Save America’s activities began this past weekend and included a weekend protest at the abortion clinic and outside at least two churches. Five people were arrested during a gathering outside an Episcopalian church on Sunday.

No injuries were reported in the demonstrations. The Clarion-Ledger newspaper said the five arrested outside a church faced charges of obstructing traffic, protesting in a residential neighborhood without a permit and disorderly conduct, police said.

Mississippi Reproduction Freedom Coalition plans counter-demonstrations in the capital city during the week.