Anit-abortion protesters arrested



WASHINGTON (AP)—Capitol Police arrested 68 singing, chanting anti-abortion demonstrators Wednesday for blocking access to Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Washington office.

The demonstrators oppose a Kennedy-sponsored bill that would restrict the actions of protestors at abortion clinics. The proposal responds to a growing wave of violence directed at abortion clinics including 10 firebombings this year.

Kennedy, D-Mass., was chairing a hearing on health care reform in another building on Capitol Hill when word filtered to his office that scores of demonstrators were on their way. Staffers locked themselves in leaving only the small reception area in his office open when the demonstrators arrived.

The action was part of a three-day lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill orchestrated by the anti-abortion groups Operation Rescue and the Christian Defense Coalition. All of those arrested were women, a move to counter criticism that men dominate the anti-abortion ranks.

After being asked to disperse and refusing to leave the third-floor hallway outside Kennedy’s office, the demonstrators were arrested one by one and carried out to police buses.

Kennedy never confronted the demonstrators but issued a statement saying that the Justice Department needs the authority to prevent ‘‘violence, obstruction, and other illegal activities directed against public health clinics, women, and doctors.’‘

Wendy Wright, national spokeswoman for the Christian Defense Coalition, portrayed Kennedy’s bill as an assault on free speech.

Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a leader of Operation Rescue, said the demonstrators, by incurring relatively minor civil fines, were dramatizing the unfairness of Kennedy’s bill, which would, under certain circumstances, impose heavy penalties on demonstrators at abortion clinics.