Web Exclusive: Operation DNC
After Operation Rescue's "siege" ended in the fall of 1988, police Sergeant Carl Pyrdum attended the trials of more than 300 anti-abortion protesters. Most had been charged with unlawful assembly, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and providing false names, according to reports from the time.
"I had people sitting behind me in the courtroom doing everything from chanting to praying for Satan to destroy me or God to strike me," he says. "Before the jury would come into the court, they would sit there and whisper it: 'Sergeant Pyrdum, you are Satan's instrument. You know God will avenge you.'"
Pyrdum describes himself and his boss, Major Kenneth Burnette, as "devout Christian men." Although reporters asked them constantly, they never revealed their personal views on abortion.
"Neither he nor I were looking at this from anything other than the legal and constitutional perspective," Pyrdum says.
A story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, dated August 19, 1988—a month into the Atlanta protests—hints at the emotional strain exacted by the activists. Burnette was monitoring an anti-abortion press conference on the steps of Atlanta City Hall. After repeated taunting from Randall Terry, Burnette turned to Terry and said, "I'm in charge of the police precinct where all of these demonstrations have taken place, and I must tell you that I have seen something less than the love that the Lord Jesus would be pleased with."
Several years later, Pyrdum was summoned to Chicago, where he testified at a federal RICO trial that the National Organization for Women had brought against Randall Terry — a trial that preceded Terry's fall from grace within the movement. Terry settled out of court with NOW in 1998, but was sentenced to five months in prison for attempting to send Bill Clinton an aborted fetus during the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
Sgt. Pyrdum has since retired. Two decades later, one of the things he seems most proud of looking back at the summer of 1988 is that no Atlanta clinics were permanently shuttered, and closures due to protesting rarely lasted more than an hour.
Emilie Ailts, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, is disheartened that progressive groups will devote valuable time and resources this fall to fighting Amendment 48. And by the fact that clinics throughout the country are still being targeted by protesters insistent upon closing them down.
To Ailts, the real threats facing Colorado are larger than abortion; they're critical issues like comprehensive health care, sex education, and access to birth control. That's why you won't see most mainstream pro-choice groups waging counter-protests or engaging in shouting matches during the DNC this year, she says.
"Our work is so much more important than that. Our work impacts women every single day of their lives."
At 56 years old, Ailts has been involved in the women's movement and the battle for reproductive rights most of her life.
"Here we are, 40 years later, fighting the same fight," she says. "That is astounding to me."
Bethany Kohoutek is a freelance writer for 5280.com