National pro-life leaders who want to establish the first abortion-clinic-free state are targeting Arkansas and four other states in 2012, but local Catholic leaders are not happy about the tactics being used to reach that goal.
States of Refuge, a year-long campaign, is supported by various Christian organizations, including Spirit One Ministries, Operation Save America, Missionaries to the Preborn, Created Equal, Repent America, Word in Warfare Ministries, Go Stand Speak Ministries, Jeremiah Cry, Operation Freedom, Personhood USA, Life Chain, LifeLink Ministries, Pass the Salt Ministries, Doctors for Life and Life Coalition International.
The campaign will officially begin Jan. 22 on the 39th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision and end the following year on the 40th anniversary, according to the States of Refuge website.
"This will be a one-year commitment to focus manpower, resources and godly efforts to achieve abortion-free states," the website said.
States of Refuge also plan to target the last abortion clinics remaining in Jackson, Miss., Fargo, N.D., Sioux Falls, S.D., and Jackson, Wyo.
As a "prelude" to their national campaign, supporters of Operation Save America, led by Rev. Flip Benhan, convened in Little Rock Dec. 8-10 for a protest outside the state's only surgical abortion clinic. Operation Save America was formerly known as Operation Rescue, which was based previously in Dallas. Benham, the controversial national director of the organization, is currently on probation for stalking an abortion doctor in his home state of North Carolina.
Participants from 13 states stood on the sidewalk in front of Little Rock Family Planning Services in west Little Rock for all or part of the three days. They held large graphic signs of aborted fetuses and yelled at women and other family members going into their appointments and clinic workers who stepped outside to smoke.
Catholic leaders, like diocesan respect life director Marianne Linane, were told in November that States of Refuge would be coming to Little Rock and they told the national leaders they were not welcome in the city.
The Rev. Mark Holick of Wichita, Kan., wrote to supporters, "I have spoken to maybe six pro-life leaders in Little Rock. They will not be -- shall we say -- welcoming us due to the graphic signs. They will probably not like the preaching, sound systems or neighborhood visits either."
Catholic leaders organize peaceful, prayerful vigils outside the clinic every Thursday, Friday and Saturday when abortions are performed, but asked regular supporters to not come Dec. 8-10 to avoid any interactions with Operation Save America.
Operation Save America supporters Jo Scott and Leslie Hanks, both of Denver, said they have participated in protests outside abortion clinics across the country. They believe the graphic signs are an important part of getting the attention of the pregnant women.
"We have 30 seconds to save a life," Scott said. "They say the pictures are offensive, but we are just doing what Jesus showed us to do. He knows how people are affected by these kinds of pictures … He was stripped, whipped, beaten beyond recognition. He knows what he does to our souls when we see that...He showed us that graphic pictures are effective."
They said they will approach anyone who comes near the clinic with their messages.
"You have to elevate your voice," Hunt said. "You are pleading for the child's life. Mom, there is hope. You don't have to deal with people who kill kids for profit and throw them in the trash like garbage."
When a clinic worker exited the clinic Nov. 9, Scott yelled to the employee, "We will do everything we can to help you, get a job."
When a man exited, she told him, "Dad, don't hurt your baby. There are all kinds of help and it's free."
Operation Save America supporters are not afraid to confront those seeking abortions and those who own or work for abortion clinics. On Nov. 8 they traveled to Quitman (Cleburne County) where the Little Rock abortion doctor lives and protested outside his home and passed out flyers around to the local hair salon, convenience store and elsewhere to let residents know an abortion doctor lives in their town. The flyer included a photo of the doctor and an aborted fetus. They also went to two public high schools in Little Rock and North Little Rock to hand out pamphlets to students before they went into school and visited at least three churches on Sunday, Dec. 11, displaying their signs.
Marsha Boss, prayer coordinator for the Little Rock abortion clinic vigil and member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, said the local pro-life supporters have the same goal as the "confrontational" group, but they don't agree with their tactics.
In a letter to local leaders, she wrote, "We believe these people's heart are in the right place, but we object to the way they have worked at abortion centers in the past. They brought offensive pictures, used bull horns and other not-gentle means to attempt to persuade both the workers and clients not to enter."
In an interview with Arkansas Catholic, Boss said on an average week about 50 Catholics are involved in praying outside the clinic as "prayer warriors" or sidewalk helpers.
"Jesus was never pushy. We try to be the faith of Christ at Calvary," she said.
Linane said she is not supportive of States of Refuge and hopes they back away from protesting in Little Rock next year.
"I am very disappointed they are here," she said. "I don't think the tactics they are imploring are effective at saving babies or their mothers."
Linane said she supports Boss' decision to not have the regular "prayer warriors" outside the clinic last week.
"Anything we do where they are will be overshadowed," she said. "I don't want anyone to associate the diocese with their tactics. It's counterproductive."
According to the States of Refuge website, they will return to Little Rock in February or March and will come back at least eight times during the year.
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