History of Operation Rescue
The history of Operation Rescue involves a split between the original American anti-abortion group and a branch of the original group. The original Operation Rescue group is now known as Operation Save America, while the branch, once known as Operation Rescue West is now known as Operation Rescue.
Operation Rescue was founded by Randall Terry in 1986. The slogan of Operation Rescue was "If you believe abortion is murder, act like it's murder." Randall Terry stepped down as director of Operation Rescue in early 1990, appointing Keith Tucci as his successor to lead the national organization, then called Operation Rescue National (ORN).
Operation Rescue's initial tactics involved peaceful sit-in demonstrations to block the doors at abortion clinics in Cherry Hill, NJ and select boroughs of Metropolitan NY, inspired by decades-earlier civil rights demonstrations led by Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s. Operation Rescue sprang to infamy during the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, where over 1200 rescuers were arrested in July and August, capturing national attention. Independent OR-style organizations cropped up around the country during these early years, the most successful being the California organization, Operation Rescue West (ORW), founded by OR’s National Tactical Director, Jeff White. More than 40,000 people were arrested during OR's demonstrations over the first four years.
The N.O.W. and abortion clinics filed lawsuits against OR beginning in 1988. The suits alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), adding Randall Terry and Operation Rescue into the National Organization for Women v. Scheidler cases which were rejected twice over a 20-year period by the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of Scheidler.
ORN and its local versions continued to grow into the early 1990s, targeting abortion clinics across the country. However, after President Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act into law in 1994, blockading clinics became prohibitively expensive, and the organization turned to different tactics.
Summer of Mercy
ORN's activities gained attention again in 1991 during the “Summer of Mercy” in Wichita, Kansas, led by Keith Tucci. Thousands of anti-abortion protesters flocked to Wichita and were arrested at sit-in protests and blockades of clinic entrances and adjacent streets. The protests were held at three different clinic locations in Wichita but focused on George Tiller's abortion clinic. Over 1,600 arrests took place during the first three weeks, with thousands of locals gathering and dozens of clergy people becoming involved. The event lasted six weeks, with over 2,600 arrests accomplished by the Wichita Police Department. The protests culminated in a rally that filled Cessna Stadium, featuring Pat Robertson. The New York Times ran an article on August 4, 1991, quoting John Snow, a retired accountant who sat on the sidewalk across from Tiller's clinic in Wichita, dispensing Kool-Aid and saying the rosary:
They're in there killing babies, nothing else, ma'am.
Despite the large numbers of arrests, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry was quoted as saying "The Wichita Police handled the Operation Rescue event better than almost any police department in history." As a result, Wichita Police Chief Rick Stone received the United States Department of Justice Marshal's Service "Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award" for his "outstanding professionalism and law enforcement leadership".
ORN made an attempt at a similar success in 1992 when Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin invited ORN for the so-called “Spring of Life.” The event became ORN's biggest public relations coup, when thousands of out-of-area protesters on both sides of the argument descended on Buffalo and Amherst. The crisis and financial hardship that the city endured because of the incidents was believed to have brought down the Griffin administration later that year.
Keith Tucci departed as director of Operation Rescue National in late 1993 turning the organization over to Rev. Flip Benham in Dallas, Texas and the work of Operation Rescue International over to Dr. Pat McEwen based in Melbourne, Florida. Benham soon began using the name Operation Rescue/Operation Save America, while McEwen changed the name of her organization to Life Coalition International. Both LCI and OSA remain active.
On August 10, 1995, Norma McCorvey, who was "Jane Roe" in the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, announced that she was now a member of ORN, and had converted to Christianity as a result of having repeated contact with Flip Benham and his ORN staff's families since she worked near its headquarters. She details her story in the book Won by Love: Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe V. Wade, Speaks Out for the Unborn As She Shares Her New Conviction for Life.
In 1999, Operation Rescue West changed hands when Jeff White stepped down from his position as director and transferred the leadership to Troy Newman. Newman moved ORW from California to Kansas, and dropped the word West from the group's name, simply calling the organization Operation Rescue. After a dispute between Flip Benham and Troy Newman over the use of the Operation Rescue name, and after Benham was named in a lawsuit, Flip Benham changed the name of his group, Operation Rescue National to Operation Save America. The former Operation Rescue West retained the name of Operation Rescue. The group is also referred to as Operation Rescue Kansas or sometimes simply as ORK.
- Operation Rescue (Kansas), formerly Operation Rescue West or California Operation Rescue
- Operation Save America, formerly Operation Rescue and later Operation Rescue National
- George Tiller, the target of much of the group's attention, eventually murdered by a member of the group
- Live From the Gates of Hell: An Insider's Look at the Antiabortion Underground by Jerry Reiter (2000) ISBN 1-57392-840-2
- Operation Rescue: A Challenge to the Nation's Conscience by Philip F. Lawler (1992) ISBN 0-87973-506-6
- "METRO DATELINES; Anti-Abortion Group Will Close Its Offices", The New York Times, December 17, 1990
- Jim Risen & Judy L. Thomas, Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War (1998)
- New York Times Sept 15, 2006 "Anti-Abortion Group Loses Tax Exemption" by Stephanie Strom
- Clinics Prepare for Operation Rescue 1993