Anti-abortion vigils moved from closed Kan. clinic

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- More than 40 abortion rights supporters kept watch Saturday at the Kansas clinic run by slain abortion provider George Tiller, thwarting plans for a memorial service there by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

Abortion opponents had planned an afternoon gathering and prayer vigil at Tiller's former clinic, one of the few in the nation where third-trimester abortions were available.

Tiller was gunned down May 31 at his church. Murder and aggravated assault charges were filed against Scott Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, Mo.

In a move intended to avoid a confrontation with activists from the National Organization for Women, about 30 abortion opponents instead held their event at Operation Rescue's own national headquarters, the site of a closed Wichita abortion clinic the group bought in 2006.

"Our original intent was to prevent them from doing their proverbial dance on a murdered man's grave," said Marla Patrick, state coordinator for NOW. "The fact they changed plans tells me we were successful."

Abortion opponents laid flowers Saturday in front of the Operation Rescue building, a local hospital and a third abortion clinic that closed in 1991. The 3,000 flowers represented the average number of abortions done each year at Tiller's clinic, the group said.

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said a few people would later lay flowers at Tiller's clinic at some undetermined time when counter-protesters were no longer at the clinic.

One of those at the flower-laying ceremony was the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition of Washington, D.C., who condemned Tiller's shooting. Mahoney told the group they were praying for Tiller's family.

"We are not celebrating the death of Tiller," Mahoney said. "We are very aware of the trauma and emotion this community has gone through in the past three weeks."

Mahoney helped lead the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" abortion protests in Wichita, a time of mass demonstrations and thousands of arrests. At that time, the city had three abortion clinics. Tiller's clinic had been the last one left, and his family has said the clinic would remain permanently closed in the wake of his death.

"We are praying the violence of abortion never takes hold in this community again," Mahoney said.

The Rev. Bobby Hudson was one of the 88 pastors arrested at the site of what is now Operation Rescue's headquarters. He said he was arrested three times during the "Summer of Mercy" protests.

"I'm glad the clinics are closed," Hudson said as he stood on the same driveway where he had been arrested in 1991 for protesting. "I will continue to pray Wichita stays abortion free."

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