WICHITA, KAN., AUG. 6 -- The Justice Department joined forces today with an antiabortion group fighting a federal judge's order banning protesters from blocking access to two abortion clinics.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Kelly granted Lee Thompson, the U.S. attorney for Kansas, permission to join the case, but said, "I am disgusted by this move by the United States."
The Justice Department argues that women seeking abortions are not protected under a Reconstruction-era civil rights law that was used to protect blacks from racial harassment.
Attorneys for the antiabortion group Operation Rescue filed motions seeking to stay a preliminary injunction issued July 23 by Kelly. The judge's order prohibits Operation Rescue and its followers from blocking access to the clinics and physically harassing staff and patients, or encouraging others to do so. At the hearing, Kelly denied the motion for a stay.
Hundreds have been arrested in the antiabortion protests that began here July 15.
Thompson said Kelly should stay the injunction because the plaintiffs, Women's Health Care Services and Wichita Family Planning Inc., had not demonstrated the likelihood that they would prevail in their lawsuit against the protesters.
Operation Rescue attorney Jay Sekulow said the group will ask the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to overrule Kelly's denial of the stay.
Operation Rescue attorneys had challenged Kelly's jurisdiction in the lawsuit filed by the two clinics against the protesters. Thompson also raised that issue in his brief seeking to join Operation Rescue.
Thompson also said specific requirements set out by Kelly for enforcement of his order intruded on the U.S. Marshal Service's prerogative of deciding how to enforce court orders.
The U.S. attorney said he wanted to argue points the Justice Department has raised in a similar case involving an abortion clinic in Alexandia, Va., that is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kelly said he believes the court will rule, as he has, "against these lawbreakers."
Kelly also said the Justice Department's involvement in the case was a political move. He recommended that Attorney General Dick Thornburgh review videotapes of Operation Rescue's Wichita activities to understand the "mayhem and distress" that he said has been unleashed on the city.
Kelly also denied a request to stay a $100,000 bond he ordered Operation Rescue to post. He said the bond is to cover possible costs if the antiabortion protests get out of hand.
A crowd of about 1,200 abortion protesters showed up at Women's Health Care Services today, but did not block access to the clinic.
The demonstrators prayed, sang and listened to speeches during a 90-minute rally. About two dozen federal marshals and police officers stationed themselves across the driveway leading to the clinic. No arrests were made.
Most of the protesters left when leaders urged them to attend a regularly scheduled City Council meeting to show support for Mayor Bob Knight, who opposes abortion. The crowd shrank to about 200 within minutes.
About three dozen abortion-rights activists, standing in the yard of their headquarters two doors from the clinic, cheered as the marshals parted and allowed several cars to enter the clinic.
Police have made more than 1,900 arrests, including 65 on Monday, outside the clinic and Wichita Family Planning Inc. since Operation Rescue began demonstrations. Many have been arrested repeatedly. On Monday, Kelly toughened his stance against the demonstrators, ordering marshals to be prepared to make more arrests if the blockade continued.
A man was arrested after he confronted Kelly and his wife while they took a walk near their home Monday, authorities said. Richard O. Beemer, 53, of Wichita, was charged with interfering with a federal judge.
At the City Council meeting, the mayor took note of the presence of more than 300 people representing both sides of the abortion issue and said, "The subject will not be up for council debate."
Knight recessed the meeting to allow people to leave, and most did.
Kelly said he will use federal facilities or 30 county jails across the state to house protesters, if that becomes necessary.