Opinion

Commentary: Times have changed for Operation Rescue founder

By the time Randall Terry situated himself on 95th Street in Overland Park the Wednesday morning rush hour had rushed by.

It's unlikely any drivers recognized who was standing by the banner denouncing Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Terry now lives in Washington, D.C. These days, articles refer to him as "founder" of Operation Rescue, but little else. That smarts for the man once the most recognizable in the anti-abortion movement.

Terry's 45-minute protest not far from Sen. Sam Brownback's office drew one columnist, one TV cameraman, a family of three and a woman who arrived as he packed up for his next stop, Topeka. He's on a 12-city tour, calling for a Senate filibuster against Sotomayor. Brownback's staff didn't even let him into their office.

It's a long walk from the 1991 Summer of Mercy in Wichita when he was whipping the movement into a frenzy. Beginning in the late 1980s Terry, an evangelist by demeanor, persuaded conservative pastors to link their congregations to Operation Rescue's efforts.

During the 45-day event, about 2,600 protesters were arrested. Abortion clinics nationwide were besieged.

But Terry took his hits as well. Years of battling lawsuits, some from abortion providers for disruption of commerce, eventually bankrupted him and he bowed out for years.

Now, besides the Sotomayor activity, he's in a legal tussle to secure his right to the name Operation Rescue. At 50, he's intent on salvaging his legacy from a younger breed of anti-abortion leader.

That would be Troy Newman, who moved his group, called Operation Rescue West, to Wichita. Newman's group now goes by simply Operation Rescue.

Terry insists he is to "Operation Rescue," as Jimmy Buffett is to "Margaritaville." One does not exist without the other.

You might ask why anybody would want the name now, after the May shooting of George Tiller, the nationally known late-term abortion doctor.

For many, Operation Rescue are words forever linked with the fanatical violence that left Tiller dead. Terry and Newman denounced the violence, but it's far from clear how the slaying will affect their support.

Religious conservatives don't have the sway in Washington they once did. Many conservative pastors now believe the most effective way to reduce abortions is by limiting unwanted pregnancies in the first place. The country would be wise to continue shifting away from the tactics long deployed by Operation Rescue.

Operation Rescue leadership can try all the re-branding they want. The nation is moving on. And this feud is largely old-school, insider baseball.

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