WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - When Troy Newman moved here from Southern California in 2002 to carry on his anti-abortion campaign, he thought the aggressive tactics his group uses to get its message across would play well in this conservative community.
"I thought — and still believe — we cannot win this fight without winning it here," said Newman, head of Wichita-based Operation Rescue.
But since drawing thousands to its 1991 Summer of Mercy protest, support for Operation Rescue has tapered off, with only a few hundred in attendance at a 2001 rally and that many expected at one planned for this weekend.
"They no longer are much of a force. Nobody talks much about them. It is a historical remnant of their heyday that gives them any kind of cachet," said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for Free Choice.
Operation Rescue's "truth trucks," emblazoned with photos of aborted fetuses, are a fixture at demonstrations outside Kansas abortion clinics. Newman's group routinely pickets clinic employees' homes and businesses that support the clinics.
Newman, 40, believes most Americans are repelled by late-term abortions and has long vowed to close Women's Health Care Services, one of the few clinics nationwide that performs them. If abortion opponents cannot win public opinion when it comes to the Wichita clinic, Newman said, they cannot win it anywhere.
Since 1991, Operation Rescue has been beset by factional infighting that has split it into regional groups, including Wichita's. Tougher federal laws banning clinic blockades, injunctions, civil judgments and financial problems have dogged the movement. Some groups have changed their names, in part to avoid paying court judgments.
Furthermore, Newman's group has alienated some of the state's other anti-abortion campaigners, including several ministers, said David Gittrich, state development director for Kansans for Life.
Newman said his group has distanced itself from anti-abortion violence and screens those who want to represent Operation Rescue, although it has no formal membership system.
"We have a reputation to keep: We are committed, absolutely committed, to serving the peace," he said.
But several abortion rights supporters have pointed out that the group's spokeswoman, Cheryl Sullenger, who followed Newman from California to Wichita, served more than two years in prison for passing along bomb-making materials in a thwarted 1987 conspiracy to bomb a San Diego clinic. She has since renounced such violent tactics.
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