Profiles on the Right: Operation Rescue

operation rescue

Operation Rescue is a militant anti-choice organization functioning out of Wichita, Kansas. It was founded in 1986 by radical fundamentalist Randall Terry who united pro-life activists under the slogan “If you believe abortion is murder, act like it’s murder.” In the 1990s, the numerous groups espousing Operation Rescue’s ideologies coalesced and split into two distinctive groups: Operation Rescue West, which rose in prominence and later became known simply as Operation Rescue, and the more broadly-focused Operation Save America. There has been ongoing strife between founder Randall Terry and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman over the rights to the name Operation Rescue, which Newman currently possesses and Terry contests.

Before the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) in 1994, the Operation Rescue movement incited and lead sit-ins to block access to abortion clinics. The high point of its actions is considered to be the six-week event it titled the “Summer of Mercy in 1991.” By their own account, thousands of activists blocked the entrances to three abortion clinics in Wichita, Kansas with over a thousand reported arrests. The event also featured the infamous Christian Right personality Pat Robertson, among other speakers. Since FACE, however, Operation Rescue and its affiliates have had to resort to more roundabout methods of opposition to abortion rights. Currently, a large part of their efforts to undermine women’s health centers is focused on discrediting existing clinics. Their website prominently features videos and articles citing instances of botched abortions, unsanitary conditions, and malpractice suits. Before his murder, Operation Rescue launched an all-out legal campaign against Dr. George Tiller over the course of seven years and protested his clinic heavily.

In 2002 Operation Rescue moved to Wichita, Kansas from California, and in 2006 it bought and closed an abortion clinic in town, turning it into their headquarters and a “memorial to the pre-born.” After the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Operation Rescue attempted to buy his clinic and turn it into a memorial as well, claiming it was “hallowed ground.” Dr. Tiller’s family closed the clinic permanently and their bid to purchase it ultimately failed. Two years after Dr. Tiller’s death, in partnership with Maryland Coalition for Life, they bought a property across from the Georgetown office of Dr. Leroy Carhart, his former colleague and fellow late-term abortion provider, and opened a sort of pro-life resource center that functions much like a crisis pregnancy center, luring women seeking abortion services away from unbiased care.

Although Operation Rescue has numerous statements on its website distancing itself from violent activities, including an entire page dedicated to statements denouncing their founder Randall Terry, their language and tactics are both aggressive and inflammatory and they should not be divorced from the statistics citing increased violence against abortion clinics. They prominently feature web links to Pro-Life America’s abortion provider database,, which lists the names, pictures, addresses, and phone numbers of abortion providers in the United States. They refer to clinics as “abortion mills,” clinic escorts as “deathscorts,” and abortion in America as the “American Holocaust.” Their website and many other public materials contain graphic pictures of aborted fetuses. They train “sidewalk counselors” to harass and divert women seeking care at abortion clinics.

Operation Rescue maintains a fleet of ten “truth trucks”—medium size trucks with large, graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and slogans on the sides. They appear along with protestors at any major event liable to draw a huge crowd, with special attention to gatherings of pro-choice supporters such as Planned Parenthood fundraisers or the Democratic National Convention. Their stated mission is twofold, both to “make the horror of abortion an unavoidable issue, and to make the Lord Jesus Christ paramount in our nation.” This mission is consistent with their endorsements of right-wing politicians who legislate based on thinly-veiled and narrow interpretations of Christian scripture. In 2006, its tax-exempt status was revoked by the IRS for violating prohibitions on electioneering by nonprofits.

Recently, Operation Rescue made headlines in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which it has named the “late-term abortion capital” of America to draw the attention of other like-minded pro-life groups. The New York Times published an article on the actions of Bud and Tara Shaver, trainees of Operation Rescue, who staged a protest at the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum in Albuquerque, insisting that the museum include an exhibit on the “American genocide” of fetuses and distributing fliers with the faces and names of abortion providers in the area, a tactic which has also been used by Operation Save America. Operation Rescue and groups like it have been responsible for the tightening restrictions on abortion services and providers, and their involvement in politics should not be overlooked. An Operation Rescue defense lawyer, Richard Macias, was nominated and serves on Kansas’s Board of Healing Arts, which licenses and disciplines physicians in Kansas, and many more politicians are sympathetic to their cause.