Julie Burkhart and her team are finally ready to re-open the Wichita, Kansas abortion clinic George Tiller ran before he was fatally shot by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder four years ago. The clinic, now called South Wind Women's Center, will be the first abortion clinic to operate in Wichita since Roeder was shot; unlike Tiller's former clinic, it will only perform abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy and will offer everything from routine physical exams to fertility counseling.
"Opening this clinic is huge," Vicki Saporta, the president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, an abortion-rights group, told The Kansas City Star. "It sends a message to anti-abortion extremists that violence doesn't work, and it fills a need in the community for women who need to access quality abortion care so those women won't have to be traveling to Kansas City or other places."
Anti-abortion advocates unsurprisingly disagree. "They can try to pretend it's a full-service women's center, but it's just an abortion clinic," said Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion group based in Wichita. "And they're going to go out of business, because we're going to make sure that it's not economically feasible to run it."
The clinic will open this week, no thanks to opposition that ranges from ridiculous to dangerous. Newman actually commandeered the Trust Women Foundation name before Burkhart got a chance to, incorporating it himself with the Kansas secretary of state, which meant she had to add to the name when she filed for incorporation. (Cool prank, wonder if he got the idea from an 8th grade boy?) But other tactics aren't just annoying:
Burkhart said that she had been stalked and that demeaning fliers containing her picture and address had been distributed in her neighborhood.
Protesters have demonstrated outside Burkhart's house, and a pastor recently put a sign in her yard depicting an aborted fetus and the words, "Where's your church?"
"I took it as meaning, ‘We're going to get a gunman and track you down at your church,' " similar to what Roeder did to Tiller, she said.
Burkhart is up for the challenge; she founded the Trust Women Organization and worked with Tiller himself for seven years, so she knows what she's in for — but she said she's unsure whether patients in search of pelvic exams and STI tests will be put off by protestors even though they're not there to get abortions.
"The $10 million question for us is whether women, if they see protesters out there, will come in for their Pap smear," she said.
Given that it's the only clinic of its kind around, can they afford to stay out?