WICHITA, Kan. — Abortion opponents, at the last minute Saturday, moved a planned memorial service from the now-shuttered Kansas clinic run by slain abortion provider George Tiller, as counter-demonstrations loomed by abortion rights supporters.
Operation Rescue planned a gathering and prayer vigil in Wichita led by the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, who helped lead the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" protests in the city that sparked mass demonstrations and arrests.
Tiller was gunned down May 31 in the foyer of his church. Scott Roeder, 51, faces first-degree murder and aggravated assault charges. Tiller's clinic was one of the few in the nation where third-trimester abortions were available.
Marla Patrick, state coordinator for the National Organization for Women, said Friday dozens of abortion rights supporters plan to confront Operation Rescue at the clinic.
Abortion opponents now plan to lay 1,500 flowers at a local hospital and location near their own national headquarters in remembrance of the more than 60,000 abortions performed at the clinic since abortion was legalized. A memorial service will be followed by a prayer walk across Wichita, and vigils at a local church.
Mahoney said Saturday the groups made the change in location after NOW decided to disrupt the "solemnity of the memorial service" with counter demonstrations at the clinic.
Tiller's family said it would permanently close the clinic after he was killed while serving as an usher at Sunday morning church services.
"We deliberately scaled it back. Nobody is going to bring any signs or anything. We are going to be somber," Mahoney said. "At a time when emotions are most raw, that would be a critical time to pray. We are praying for no more violence to enter the city of Wichita."
Operation Rescue has repeatedly denounced Tiller's shooting, saying Roeder was not a member.
Tiller's supporters, though, are rankled that Operation Rescue is holding a service at his clinic and claiming they will pray for his family.
"It is highly insulting, especially considering it is their type of rhetoric that contributed to Dr. Tiller's death," Patrick said.
Abortion rights advocates said they struggled with the decision to demonstrate at Tiller's clinic, but ultimately felt it was necessary.
"We know they are not doing this to heal anything," Patrick said. "They are using it as a way to further their agenda and to turn the attention on them."