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20 years after "Summer of Mercy"

July 08, 2011|By Roger Cornish | KWCH 12 Eyewitness News

(WICHITA, Kan.) — 20 years ago this week, Wichita received some national attention...attention which many living here probably didn't want.

It was July 1991, and organizers called it the Summer of Mercy.

The protest was brought to Wichita by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.  It  was originally led by Randal Terry, but by 1991 it was under the direction of Keith Tucci.

Wichita was targeted because of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.  That made Tiller's medical center on East Kellogg ground zero for the abortion battle.

The events that occurred outside the building 20 years ago didn't solve the argument.  The battle still rages today.

But the protest did put Wichita city leaders in the middle of another tough decision, how to handle such a disturbance.

The city had to find a balance between protestors and maintaining access to the clinic.

Federal judge Patrick Kelly decided not enough was being done. "This kind of fanaticism leads to violence, and it clearly will come if we don't stop it," he said at the time.

An angry Wichita Mayor Bob Knight fired back with a statement that said "for him to say this city hasn't carried out its duties is ludicrous. I regret any inconvenience but it's my professional choice that the slow arrests are a trade-off for keeping people from being hurt."

Still, Judge Kelly sent in federal marshals, leading Randal Terry to call him a "nazi" judge, who was taking all the law into his own hands.

Current Wichita police Chief Norman Williams was a captain in 1991.

20 years later, he has clear memories of that summer.

"It was a difficult time, enforcing the law, because again, quite a few of our officers also had their personal beliefs and they had to balance their personal beliefs with enforcing the law,"  Chief Williams said.  "And that was the key, that we took an oath to enforce not only the laws of the city of Wichita, but of Kansas. And that's what we had to focus on, removing our emotions and focus on being professional and yet enforcing the law and making sure no one got hurt."

After thousands of arrests the protest wound down after about six weeks.

Abortion opponents felt they had made their point while Dr Tiller continued his procedures at his east Kellogg clinic.

A couple of years later, Tiller would be shot in the arms outside his clinic by an abortion opponent.

In 2009, Tiller was shot to death inside his east Wichita church.

His clinic is now closed, but the abortion debate continues.

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