WASHINGTON – (KRT) – In 1991 John Roberts was a young federal official confronted with a growing crisis in Wichita, Kan.
Anti-abortion protesters in Wichita were attempting to shut down the city’s abortion clinics.
The “Summer of Mercy” protests heightened community tensions, so much so that a federal judge in Wichita ordered U.S. Marshals to keep the clinic open.
Roberts, representing the administration of President George H.W. Bush, had a choice: let the judge’s ruling stand, or fight it. He chose to intervene.
Fourteen years later, that challenge of a court decision is receiving new scrutiny as Roberts next month faces confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court.
With activist groups on the right and left scrutinizing his every past action, the Summer of Mercy and Roberts’ role in it is gaining new national interest.
Supporters say his decision shows respect for the law. Critics charge him with putting ideology over public safety.
“John Roberts challenged rather than protected the notion of women’s safety,” said spokesman Ted Miller of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion-rights group opposed to Roberts’ nomination. “He had the option to remain neutral, but instead he chose to put the government on the side of violent protesters.”
In August 1991, Judge Patrick Kelly had seen enough.
More than 2,000 arrests had been made since Operation Rescue started its protests in July. Protesters had broken an agreement with Kelly not to block clinic entrances. Fighting with police, throwing themselves in front of cars, the demonstrators were putting a strain on local police.
So when clinic owner George Tiller and others petitioned for protection, Kelly ordered in federal marshals.