Friday, July 20, 2007

Abortion Protest Leader Arrested In Birmingham

Continuing coverage of the weeklong siege of Birmingham by anti-choice protestors, I just got off the phone with Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, field director for Feminist Majority’s National Access Project. I got a tip that there had been some arrests of anti-abortion protestors this morning.

Nancy was inside the New Woman, All Women clinic when we spoke, having worked all week with the clinic staff as they dealt with the protestors. She confirmed that Flip Benham, director of Operation Save America (formerly known as Operation Rescue), was arrested between 9:30 and 10 a.m. this morning. She hasn't yet learned, she told me, exactly why he was arrested, or whether Benham's arrest involved a 12-year-old injunction governing activities outside the clinic.

Since 1995, even before the clinic was bombed by Eric Robert Rudolph, Nancy explained, a federal injunction specific to the New Woman location has been in effect requiring protestors to stay behind a 25-foot buffer around the clinic. The injunction also includes a provision against noise reaching certain levels, she asserted. Nancy said she and the clinic staff have been encouraging the Birmingham police to enforce the noise violations of the federal injunction and today they seemed to have done so.

Benham and his group had previously been warned by the police that they were too loud. Yet today the anti-choice protest organizer had turned up his sound amplifier—even louder than it had been before, she related—so that that his "preaching" was could be heard inside the clinic.

After Benham's arrest, Nancy said, all the protestors from his group left to join him at the courthouse.

“For the moment, it’s very quiet here,” she told me. She said that she and the other 50-some pro-choice supporters were waiting to see if Benham and his OSA supporters were going to return. As of 2:30 p.m. they still hadn't returned.

I’ll post news reports and updates as I get them.

---Rachel Joy Larris

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