The "sound of silence" depicts anti-abortion protest

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A handful of anti-abortion protesters displaying placards and praying in silence lined the sidewalk along Hudson Drive across the street from Dr. Ed Perry's medical office on Wednesday morning.
   Many of the primarily Christian protesters feel that the practice of abortion, while legal, does not have a place in Elizabethton.
   "I want to see a change of heart by Dr. Perry," said Doug Hinshaw, associate pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Elizabethton. "We are going to try to get church members to come every morning to pray for at least an hour."
   Immanuel Baptist pastor Steve Witt serves as president of Abortion Alternatives Crisis Pregnancy Center in Elizabethton, but is on a missionary trip, according to Hinshaw who teaches the "I-40" ministry at the Elizabethton-Carter County Boys & Girls Club.
   Speaking with the Star on Wednesday, Perry declined to comment at length about the protest but did say he had no problem with citizens exercising their right to free assembly.
   "It's perfectly all right with me," he said. Perry said the abortions he performs at his office are minuscule in number compared to one year ago. The "occasional" abortion is performed at the office, he said. He said the protests were the first held outside his practice in several years.
   Perry recently sold his medical office on Rogosin Drive and leased space in Ashley Plaza on Hudson Drive. "I was thinking about quitting altogether," he said. "Now, I think I'm going to dig in my heels."
   Roughly 15 protesters silently prayed while holding signs reading "Abortion Hurts Women" and "Pray to End Abortion" on the sidewalk across the street from Perry's office on Wednesday morning. The protesters ranged from young children to local clergy members. The silent protest reflects the method of Life Chain -- a Christian organization that has developed new rules for protesting the legal medical procedure.
   "We believe in the sanctity of life ... that every human has a right to life no matter how small they are," said Tony Trott, pastor of Union Hill Freewill Baptist Church in Elizabethton. "We are out here to let people know that abortion is murder."
   Trott said he and his family moved to Elizabethton around 18 months ago from Sumpter, S.C. where the right-to-life movement has a large following. Life Chain advocates peaceful and prayerful protest at clinics where abortions are performed.
   "It is more dependent on prayer and show of consensus in changing the way we do things a little bit," said Trott.
   During the 1980s and 1990s, anti-abortion protesters frequently clashed with abortion rights advocates and police during attempts by protesters to block access to abortion clinics. Legislation entitled the "Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrance" was enacted in 1994 making any use of force or blocking an abortion clinic a federal offense.
   The National Organization of Women filed lawsuits against anti-abortion groups including Operation Rescue alleging the groups had violated statutes of the Racketeering and Interstate Commerce (RICO) -- a federal criminal conspiracy law created to prosecute organized crime -- by conspiring to shut down the abortion industry nationwide.
   The cases were consolidated into Scheidler v. National Organization for Women and Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women. In October 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that RICO could be applied to anti-abortion protesters. That ruling was overturned in an 8-1 decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 26, 2003 after protesters appealed the ruling. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion.
   The Supreme Court's majority opinion ruled members of Operation Rescue and other plaintiffs did not commit extortion because they did not "obtain" property from respondents. The court's opinion cited two codes defining extortion as the "obtaining of property from another."
   "It is undisputed that petitioners interfered with, disrupted, and in some instances completely deprived respondents of their ability to exercise their property rights," Rehnquist wrote in the court's opinion. However, the court found that even when the organization's acts of interference and disruption achieved their ultimate goal of shutting down an abortion clinic, such acts " ... did not constitute extortion because petitioners did not 'obtain' respondents' property ...", according to the decision.