It was not your typical Kansas abortion protest.
But it was indicative of a national trend of abortion-rights activists adopting some of the harsher methods that have been used against them in the past.
Assailing anti-abortion counselors as liars, about 15 activists from around the country – and a couple of Wichitans who joined in – gathered for a rhetorically sharp protest Friday outside A Better Choice, an anti-abortion pregnancy crisis center near Central and Hillside.
The center shares a parking lot with the anti-abortion activist group Operation Rescue, known for its protests targeting clinics that provide abortions and the homes of people who work at them.
The protesters have been caravaning through several states protesting and handing out “indictments” of anti-abortion pregnancy centers that they say provide false information about abortion and birth control.
On Friday, they carried signs with slogans such as “Fake Clinic,” and “Stop Forced Motherhood,” and festooned the front of the building with faux crime-scene tape reading “Danger, Crimes Against Women.” They also posed for pictures holding the tape over the sign at Operation Rescue.
Both groups’ offices were closed Friday. Although Wichita police responded to the scene, they did not hinder the demonstrators as they waved signs at passing motorists and chanted.
Officials from A Better Choice did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Contacted at a conference in Seattle, Operation Rescue leader Troy Newman said the protesters can “stand out there in the rain” and rejected comparison of their protests and his.
“I don’t see anybody coming out of that place (A Better Choice) with a sad face,” he said. “Unlike an abortion clinic, everybody who’s going in and out of there are happy.”
The primary message of the Abortion Rights Freedom Riders is that “forced motherhood is female enslavement,” said Tracy Stern of Atlanta, the chief spokeswoman for the group, who accused the pro-life movement of seeking to turn women into “incubators.”
Stern said the protesters held similar rallies in North Dakota and Nebraska before coming to Wichita. They plan to rally at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Old Town Cinema Plaza and finish up their protest tour in Jackson, Miss.
Wichita’s National Organization for Women chapter declined to join with the protesters.
Vickie Stangl, immediate past president of Wichita NOW, said she agrees with the demonstrators that pregnancy crisis centers dispense medical misinformation. But she added that she thinks the group’s tactics may be too strong for Wichita and could backfire by stoking anti-abortion passions.
“We’re not trying to beat people over the head,” Stangl said. “We believe in choice, and we truly believe in that word and some of their messaging is obviously more militant.”
On a national level, abortion-rights advocates are increasingly adopting methods that have been staples of anti-abortion protest, including demonstrations and heavily edited hidden-camera “sting” videos.
On Thursday, the national organization NARAL-Pro Choice America released a political ad targeting Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli “for funneling state funds to fake clinics that lie to and shame women about birth control and abortion.”
Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, supports a program in which Virginia’s motor vehicle department sells “Choose Life” license plates and provides a portion of the income to anti-abortion pregnancy centers.
Newman said he sees the increasingly aggressive pro-choice tactics as “an act of desperation of a failed movement.”
“We’re clearly winning,” Newman said. “There are five times the number of pregnancy counseling centers as there are abortion clinics.”