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Activists, Wichita Law Enforcement Prepare For Summer Of Mercy Anniversary

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Courtesy Operation Save America's Facebook
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Clergy protest in Wichita during the original Summer of Mercy in 1991.

Events surrounding the Summer of Justice start tomorrow in Wichita, marking the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy, when mass demonstrations led to nearly 2,700 arrests outside of local clinics that provide abortion services.

Plans for the Summer of Justice include prayer services, rallies, and a march in downtown Wichita, all with the purpose of stopping abortions. The events are organized by Operation Save America, a Texas-based group that opposes abortion. Wichita’s Word of Life Church is hosting the group here. Rob Rotola is senior pastor at the church.

"They had reached out to me and several others in the community and said, ‘What do you think about us coming?’ We thought it was a great idea and invited them," he says.

Operation Save America’s decision to come to Wichita was not arbitrary--nor was it in 1991, when the Summer of Mercy was held here. The protesters--then led by Operation Rescue--organized demonstrations against several doctors who performed late-term abortions. In Wichita that was Dr. George Tiller.

The second Summer of Mercy, held in Wichita in 2001, also focused primarily on Tiller’s clinic. Years later Dr. Tiller was shot and killed by Scott Roeder, a man who claimed that he was saving babies through the act.

In 2013 Tiller’s former clinic was reopened by Julie Burkhart; today, South Wind Women’s Center offers abortion services at the site. Now, Pastor Rob Rotola says Word of Life Church and several other partners with Operation Save America are working to make this Summer of Justice effective.

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Credit Linkedin
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Rob Rotola, senior pastor at Word of Life Church in Wichita.

“It’s not just people from out of town," he says. "They’ll be a lot of people locally and people from out of town as well.”

He says people from hundreds of other local churches are planning to attend various events throughout the week.

“We’re just a drop in the bucket as to what the plan is for the week. It’s not really our church doing this, we’re just hosting the rallies and accommodating it so it goes better and farther and has more accomplishment," he says.

That accomplishment, according to Rotola, is to shed light on the fact that there are two locations in Wichita that currently offer abortive services.

“One is the South Wind [Women's Center] clinic on East Kellogg and the other is Planned Parenthood, who’s doing chemical abortions," he says. "And the goal of the week is to expose that and hopefully stop it.”

Rotola says all of the scheduled activities are lawful.

“And salt-of-the-earth type people will be participating. And that will be proven and evidenced as the week goes on," he says. "You have physicians, you have nurses, grandmas with Bibles and moms pushing their strollers.”

Rotola spent 4 months planning for the Summer of Justice and has been in close communication with local law enforcement. He says that while there will be police presence, he expects the week to be peaceful.

“We ask people to be Christ-like, to be prayerful, stay principled, keep the focus on the babies. We’re here to defend innocent human life," he says. "So the police will help keep things accountable. And if people on the other side of the aisle come out and counter-protest, if that occurs, we hope that they express their First Amendment rights and that they behave as well.”

Law enforcement prepares for Summer Of Justice  

Area law enforcement departments are also preparing for the protests and rallies planned for next week.

According to officials with the Wichita Police Department, every officer is on call, and a special platoon of more than 100 will be assigned to cover the protests. The officers were required to go through training and have been instructed to help facilitate a peaceful environment.

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Credit File Photo
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The South Wind Women's Center.

The Wichita Police Department has reached out to both South Wind Women’s Center and the organizers of Summer of Justice about how the protests would be handled.

The entrances to South Wind Women’s Center will be protected by a federal law known as the FACE Act, which was passed in 1994. The law states that it’s illegal to injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone attempting to enter a reproductive health facility.

Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department Capt. Dave Mattingly says they’re prepared to respond if the Wichita Police Department needs help. He says staff at the county jail has been notified.

“The detention staff has been briefed," Mattingly says. "They’re aware that the potential is there, that higher than normal numbers of persons could be brought into the jail. And we’re adequately prepared for that.”

There are also state and federal law enforcement agencies prepared to help handle next week’s protests.

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Follow Abigail Wilson on Twitter @AbigailKMUWFollow Sean Sandefur on Twitter @SeanSandefur