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The Summer of Mercy: Revisiting My Hometown’s Dark Anti-Choice History

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December 6, 2012

Mercy: Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm

The dark side of anti-choice politics hits home no harder than in my hometown Wichita, Kansas. When meeting new people, especially in the reproductive justice movement, there’s always that moment of infamy, “Ah, Wichita.” Now most are aware that the late Dr. George Tiller also called this place home until 2009 when he was shot in the face during a church service by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder. Less people are aware of the Summer of Mercy, I would be the first to admit that it took 21 years to hear of it, but when I did, I was speechless. Above, I’ve defined exactly was mercy means, because after reading more about the summer I was frankly confused. I think Inigo Montoya put it best when he said, “I do not think that means what you think it means.” Nothing from what I’ve seen and have been told by primary sources is merciful.

For historical background information here are the quick facts:

  • SOM was intended to be a weeklong protest of the 3 women’s health centers (or abortion mills as the opposition would have it) that included abortions in their services. The protests lasted for most of July and August 1991.
  • It was spear-headed by Operation Rescue (OR), a group then based in California who then has since relocated to Wichita, originally to focus on Dr. Tiller.
  • Supporters of the operation would blockade entrances to the clinic in order to “rescue” lives… another word I think they should look up.
  • Others found it appropriate to throw themselves in front of cars in order to prevent doctors and patients from entering the building.
  • Thousands (I’ve seen numbers from 1,500-3,700) were arrested for various charges, mainly civil disobedience.
  • Operation Rescue claims that they “saved” ~86 lives.

What actually did their act accomplish? From where I’m standing, I can’t say much in the way of progress, but only violence. This movement inspired people to physically prevent others from making a choice to better their lives – no matter what it took. I have to wonder if Scott Roeder or Shelley Shannon, Dr. Tiller’s first attempted murderer, were there that summer. Did the mob mentality of OR inspire these two to follow through with such heinous acts? I can’t be sure because during this time I was 20-24 weeks along in my incubation period. Right on the blurred line we so frequently disagree about. I can’t help but think that this movement greatly affected people who could be so close in age to me.

There is not a substantial amount of records on this incident, and those who were present are pretty unwilling to talk about it… why? Because we are no better off than we were 21 years ago. Abortion providers all across the country are still subject to violence and hate crimes, and that is unacceptable. No matter your stance an abortion, we cannot condone violence against providers of medicine, activists, or anybody who stands hand in hand for what they believe in.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. –  Ghandi

Watch a video about the Summer of Mercy.

“These “rescuers” — sweaty mobs of zombie-like true believers — swarmed across the street in front of the clinic like angry ants. They crawled over the hot asphalt toward his office on their hands and knees. They collapsed onto the stairs, chained themselves to the fence, shrieked prayers and threats and bellowed the Biblical equivalent of evil spells at anyone who approached the place.” Mary Mapes, Journalist


“Day after day, weary local cops had to pick up and drag away protesters by the ton, literally. By the end, all the officers were wearing wide leather lifting belts in an attempt to protect their backs as they struggled to hoist and carry off so much dead weight. Police complained to us bitterly about colleagues who had seriously damaged their backs.” Mary Mapes


Trust Women has since bought Women’s Health Center from Dr. Tiller’s family and hopes to have a function clinic open in the beginning of the 2013.

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