WICHITA, Kan. — It took waiting eight hours, but abortion opponents succeeded in holding a memorial service Saturday at the closed clinic of slain abortion provider George Tiller.
As dusk fell on this Kansas city, a small group of 10 abortion foes showed up at the clinic to lay hundreds of flowers and hold a brief prayer service to memorialize the more than 60,000 abortions performed here.
A group of counter-protesters that had thwarted the event for most of the day were long gone.
"It was very peaceful," said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue. "It was exactly what we wanted."
Abortion opponents had planned a noon event at Tiller's clinic, one of the few in the nation where third-trimester abortions were available.
But the main event was moved after more than 40 abortion rights supporters announced plans for their own demonstrations and stood outside the clinic for hours.
About 30 abortion opponents held the event instead at Operation Rescue's national headquarters, the site of a closed Wichita abortion clinic the group bought in 2006.
Tiller was gunned down May 31 at his church. Murder and aggravated assault charges were filed against Scott Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, Mo.
"Our original intent was to prevent them from doing their proverbial dance on a murdered man's grave," said Marla Patrick, state coordinator for the National Organization for Women, which coordinated the counter-protest. "The fact they changed plans tells me we were successful."
Told about the Saturday evening memorial, Patrick said it was "ridiculous."
"It is about thumbing their nose at people in a community that have suffered a loss," she said.
Abortion opponents also laid flowers earlier Saturday in front of the Operation Rescue building, a local hospital and a third abortion clinic that closed in 1991. The 3,000 flowers represented the average number of abortions done each year at Tiller's clinic, the group said.
One of those at the flower-laying ceremony at Operation Rescue headquarters was the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition of Washington, D.C., who condemned Tiller's shooting. Mahoney told the group they were praying for Tiller's family.
"We are not celebrating the death of Tiller," Mahoney said. "We are very aware of the trauma and emotion this community has gone through in the past three weeks."
Mahoney helped lead the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" abortion protests in Wichita, a time of mass demonstrations and thousands of arrests. At that time, the city had three abortion clinics. Tiller's clinic had been the last one left, and his family has said the clinic would remain permanently closed in the wake of his death.
"We are praying the violence of abortion never takes hold in this community again," Mahoney said.
The Rev. Bobby Hudson was one of the 88 pastors arrested at the site of what is now Operation Rescue's headquarters. He said he was arrested three times during the "Summer of Mercy" protests.
"I'm glad the clinics are closed," Hudson said as he stood on the same driveway where he had been arrested in 1991 for protesting. "I will continue to pray Wichita stays abortion free."