An Unfortunate History Of Abortion Provider Evictions

A landlord is suing a family practitioner in Wichita, Kansas because the doctor wants to offer abortion services; the landlord says all the protests will cause a nuisance. Wichita's last abortion provider was murdered. The landlord-pressuring tactic has long precedent.

Mother Jones reports that a Kansas judge has issued a temporary restraining order to prevent Dr. Mila Means from providing abortions in her existing facility. The owner of the building that houses her practice, Foliage Development, sued Means after it refused to let her perform abortions there and, Foliage says, she went ahead anyway. The refusal stemmed from the belief that a facility offering abortions would be "creating a clear nuisance to and disturbing the peaceful possession of all other tenants."

Foliage itself has been under pressure by Operation Rescue, the militant anti-abortion group linked to Scott Roeder, the murderer of Wichita's last abortion provider, George Tiller. (Operation Rescue has officially distanced itself from Roeder, much to his anger.) Operation Rescue has already been protesting outside Means' office. And the Kansas Coalition for Life promised "a circus out there."

Wichita may have a particularly painful history, but going for the real estate of abortion providers has history as a tactic, aided by the fact that in many cases, abortion services have been geographically segregated from standard medical practice. A sampling:

  • Garden City, New York. In 1996, the New York state appeals court ruled that a landlord couldn't evict an abortion clinic from his property. The landlord said at the time, "On the one hand, I'm trying to protect the clinic's rights, and on the other hand protect the rights of anti-abortionists to peacefully protest." He also said, "Later, outside court, he added: "If my wife came to that building to see a dentist and get her teeth cleaned and she was accosted, I wonder who the dentist would hold responsible. I am not prepared to put principle in place of everyone's safe use of that building." Sounds peaceful to me! In 2002, the NYCLU succeeded in overriding an anti-abortion county DA and getting anti-trespassing laws enforced at the clinic.
  • Omaha, Nebraska. In July 2000, the longstanding anti-choice battle against abortion provider Dr. Leroy Carhart took a strange turn: His clinic was sold to three anti-abortion activists, including a Nebraska State Senator, for the purpose of evicting him. Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, told The Omaha World-Herald at the time, "I haven't heard of a case of a group specifically buying a property in order to evict a clinic." (There are several cases of anti-abortion groups turning former clinics into public memorials to aborted fetuses.) It wouldn't be the last. Carhart fought the eviction in court. Last fall, he left Nebraska to practice in the Washington D.C. area after Nebraska passed a law restricting late term abortions, of which Carhart had become one of the few remaining publicly-known providers.
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida In the mid-nineties, according to the same Omaha World Herald story (available on Nexis only), the clinic "had moved twice because landlords were tired of the protests at their buildings. And when clinic workers arrived at their third building on moving day, they discovered that the locks had been changed by the landlord because abortion opponents had threatened to kill his family." The clinic relocated a third time before closing for good in 2004 when the building was sold.
  • San Diego, California "Our decision not to renew the lease with Family Planning was not arrived at lightly," wrote a manager at The Abbey Company in San Diego in 2008. "We are terminating a lease with an excellent paying tenant who has almost 6,700 square feet of space in the building. We are not only going to incur a large vacancy, but we could potentially lose a great deal of rental income." The decision came after Operation Rescue refused to stop protesting at the clinic, despite Abbey's request. Abbey opted to let the Family Planning Association's lease expire, and Operation Rescue claimed victory

Is Providing Abortions Creating A "Nuisance"?