Wichita, Kansas—In March, PBS ran a documentary series on the women’s movement in America. As I watched, I saw that women had joined together in a movement that changed their lives, even the lives of those not directly involved in the movement, all over the country. My thoughts turned to the early 1990s, when Operation Rescue first came to Wichita to mount its weeks-long protest at the three abortion clinics here. I had moved to Wichita in 1985 and wasn’t involved in the local groups that worked for women’s rights in the state and around the country. I soon joined Wichita NOW, though, as it seemed to be a strong force against the OR tactics. I also joined with those who counter-demonstrated against Randall Terry’s mob of anti-choice extremists who brought chaos to the streets of Wichita and cost the city more than $600,000 in taxpayer money before they left town.
After the outsiders left Wichita, local anti-choice extremists continued the harassment at the clinics, so many of us continued doing clinic support wherever we were needed. What came out of that period for me was not just the satisfaction of giving moral support to patients seeking to exercise their rights, but also the bonding that took place among the women who felt strongly about protecting those rights. I made many close friends during that time, most of whom I’m still close to today. Among those friends were men, as well, men who believed women had the right to control their own bodies. However, it was the women joining together that made me realize a sea change had taken place in America and in Wichita. Women were in charge of seeing to it that their rights were protected.
When women moved out of the isolation of their houses and into the public square, as happened during the Second Wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement, they realized that many of them had all had the same concerns. They wanted equality in the workplace, they wanted the ability to control their reproduction, and they wanted such simple things as being able to get credit without a husband or father co-signing the contract.
In the ‘90s, women had most of those things. What we didn’t have, thanks to Operation Rescue and the local anti-choice clinic harassers, was peace at the local abortion clinics. We also didn’t have a city council or a state legislature that was sympathetic to the pro-choice cause. So some of us decided to take matters into our own hands.
While many of us joined the Pro-Choice Alliance, Voices for Choice, and Wichita Choice Alliance, groups that worked to guarantee abortion rights and gave support to the Wichita clinics, a few of us formed a group we called ZAP. The purpose of our group was to organize fast-action responses to anti-choice events and actions. Since this was pre-Internet, we had to use a telephone tree to inform the twelve to fifteen members of the group. For example, during the trial of Shelly Shannon, the anti-choice terrorist who shot Dr. George Tiller, Paul Hill, an anti-abortion minister, came to town and planned a press conference during the trial. Members of ZAP got on the telephone tree and organized a demonstration that in effect disrupted his press conference.
We also met Randall Terry every time he came to town and met Pat Mahoney once, presenting him with ketchup-covered Tampons for him and his group to pray over. We took trips to Dallas and Colorado to counter-demonstrate against anti-choicers in those cities. Whenever there was an anti-choice event, we were there with our street theater.
Some people accused us of being out of control. We weren’t. We used humor in our demonstrations and we remained non-violent, no matter what the provocation against us.
While we were ostensibly leadership, a couple Eric and Roxanne, put together our posters and other material. Our meetings were democratic with decisions made by consensus. Not that everything ran smoothly all the time. We were, after all, a bunch of strong-minded people. Most of the time, though, we managed to hammer out plans of action that we could all go along with.
During that period of time, the ZAPPERS grew close, spending social time beyond our meetings together. Then, things changed in Wichita. Randall Terry was deposed. Troy Newman came from California and usurped Operation Rescue at about the same time many of the ZAP members moved away or became involved in other projects.
Most of us women are still here. We still see each other on occasion. We still reminisce and laugh about those times we had. Right now, in 2013, Kansas is under a cloud of anti-choice lawmakers and until recently, all three abortion clinics were closed. Julie Burkhart, who often joined in the ZAP activities, has opened a new medical clinic in the building where Dr. George Tiller practiced. Many of us are volunteering there. Some of us are involved in politics, trying to get pro-choice legislators and a pro-choice governor elected. Most of us have reached a point at which we can’t take the rigors of daily clinic support or campaigning door to door for good candidates. We wish the younger women, and men, good luck. May they have as much fun as we did in their quest to turn the state around.