Melanie Murray, a high-school senior from Grenada Hills, California, sat with more than 400 people in the Loyola Marymount University gym listening to the heavy beat of a Christian rock band—and the exhortations of Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue (OR).

“Somebody has to stop abortion,” said Murray, who, along with scores of other teens, stepped forward “to save babies” in a Maundy Thursday sit-in at three Los Angeles-area clinics that perform abortions.

The day after the rescue, on Good Friday, Murray would turn 18; this was her last chance to participate in a “rescue” before becoming an adult in the eyes of the law. “I can’t just wait for everybody else to do it,” she added.

In fact, thousands of people joined Murray and her young peers in blocking the entrances of abortion clinics across the country between March 25 and Easter Sunday, the third National Days of Rescue, an event that organizers say signals a “rebound” for the rescue movement.

In all, 3,500 people “risked arrest” and about 2,000 were arrested in 41 cities during that week, said Keith Tucci of Operation Rescue’s national office in Summerville, South Carolina. During the first national campaign in 1988, 4,663 risked arrest, while 5,190 risked arrest during the 1989 effort, according to Tucci.

“Let’s face it, 1990 was a hard year for the rescue movement,” Terry told CHRISTIANITY TODAY, “NOW [the National Organization for Women] and Planned Parenthood thought we were dead. The National Days of Rescue show that we are very much alive.”

Terry also takes encouragement from the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case involving OR. The case concerns whether a Reconstruction-era civil-rights law, which was used as a legal weapon against Ku Klux Klan members who tried to intimidate blacks, can be used to argue that OR groups violate pregnant women’s rights to abortions by blocking clinic entrances.

Grassroots Network

Things have changed for Operation Rescue since the first two national rescue campaigns, which were organized by the old national OR office in Binghamton, New York. That office was closed in early 1990 after a U.S. attorney’s office in New York seized OR’s bank accounts and financial information when the group refused to pay a $50,000 fine levied as part of a NOW lawsuit.

“They [NOW and Planned Parenthood] envisioned us to be a top-down organization,” Terry added. “We’re not. We’re grassroots.” The new Summerville headquarters, down from 23 people to one secretary, now serves largely to help connect about 110 affiliates, Terry said.

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As the movement has become more localized, it has explored new strategies, and with mixed results. Youth for America, a rescue group that helped organize the rally at Loyola Marymount, has latched onto the concept of mobilizing young abortion protesters. While some laud the youth sit-ins because teens often get lighter sentences than their parents, Terry says that is not the real impetus for urging youth involvement.

“In Birmingham [Alabama], the Children’s March was one of the turning points of the civil-rights movement,” Terry says. “America’s survival is in the hands of these kids. These kids are so pure and simple in their understanding. To them, abortion is simply baby killing, and it has to be stopped.”

The message is sinking in with some, like the Crumbine children—Ave Maria, 14; Anthony, 12; and Arthur, 10—all veterans of the California rescue movement. At the March 27 rally, the kids casually argued about their parents’ jail terms as most children do over who should wash the dishes. “No, Dad got 11 days, remember? He was only gone a couple of weeks,” said Ave Maria, correcting Anthony.

The next day, the three took part in all three Los Angeles-area rescues, along with about 70 other youths. All three clinics were closed temporarily and no arrests were made, said Al Wirtz, of Operation Rescue of Southern California.

Signs Of Frustration?

Not all of the week’s rescue efforts came off as peacefully. A rescue in Dallas deteriorated into a scuffle between employees of an abortion clinic and a group of protesters.

In midmorning on Good Friday, several protesters rushed the entrance to North Park Medical Clinic, one of two facilities targeted. They attempted to enter and block off the medical area, prompting a scuffle. Security guards dragged out female protesters by their legs. One employee was struck in the eye; a protester was sprayed with Mace. Nine protesters were arrested—a total of 19 were arrested at both locations.

After the incident a clinic employee told the Dallas Times that several protesters disguised themselves. “These people not only pretended they were patients, they actually paid $250 to get inside. These people are fanatics. They came in and started screaming at us and our patients, telling us we were murderers.”

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One rescue participant admitted the event may signal frustration on the part of some protesters at what Terry himself cites as the dwindling number of people willing to be arrested.

“It used to be that rescuers didn’t say a word,” said Kevan Prati, who has been involved with Dallas rescues since 1988. “Now, it’s become a little more militant. I really don’t know how effective it is.”

Informed by CT of the incident, Terry said he does not believe it signals a new trend among the more autonomous local groups. “That’s an aberration,” Terry said. “There have been close to 800 rescues in the last three years, and this is the first scuffle that has broken out.” Other rescue events during the week followed past form, as rescuers employed nonviolent resistance, refused to cooperate with authorities, and found themselves in jail.

In one Philadelphia-area protest, 98 were arrested, charged with criminal trespass, conspiracy, disorderly conduct, and failure of disorderly persons to disperse. Ninety-two protesters spent Thursday night and part of Good Friday in the Chester County jail after refusing to sign a $1,000 bail note.

One protester was Joseph Roach, formerly vice-president of a major Philadelphia bank who resigned two years ago to devote his life to the prolife cause. The weekend’s activities “proved there are still plenty of people willing to come out to try to follow the Lord’s will and to bring some sense back to society,” Roach said.

By Joe Maxwell, with reports from John Carvalho in Los Angeles, Brian Willats in Dallas, and Randy Frame in Philadelphia.

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