Anti-choice activists have been trying every means possible to keep the pro-choice group Trust Women from re-opening the clinic previously owned by Dr. George Tiller. Operation Rescue filed a complaint claiming South Wind Women’s Center didn’t pull the permits necessary for reopening the office was filed by Operation Rescue, and protesters have been putting near daily pressure on Trust Women’s Julie Burkhart to end efforts to bring safe abortion care back to the city.
Now they’ve failed again. An effort to urge the city to re-zone the clinic has been rejected by the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. Kansas Right to Life development director David Gittrich blames a blizzard and the commission’s decision to have the meeting regardless of the bad weather conditions as the reason his plea failed. “There would have been a huge crowd show up if it had been a nice day. Most people thought the city was closed, and it looked to those of us who were there like it was,” Gittrich told the Wichita Eagle.
Gittrich appeared at the meeting with 14,000 signatures on a petition asking that the area be re-zoned to avoid the police activity that the clinic was subjected to when it was previously open. It’s an ironic claim given that these events were the result of harassment of Dr. Tiller’s clinic by local and national anti-choicers. Using a history of conflict and violence provoked by their own allies as a reason to keep the clinic from re-opening is brazen in itself, and the recent activities by anti-choice groups in Wichita show they have no qualms about stoking the flames again.
Because they failed in their claims about missing construction permits, Operation Rescue and its allies have broadened their focus to include harassment of those who are providing services to the clinic as it reopens. A recent call to action for followers to “respectfully call and ask Air Capital Electric to stop working for Julie Burkhart and the proposed South Wind Women’s Center,” is little more than a coordinated attack to strong-arm contractors out of working for the clinic. It’s just one step closer to the type of harassment Burkhart has been experiencing almost daily, often at her own home.
Yet she and the other supporters of South Wind aren’t stepping back. I spoke with Burkhart briefly at a conference in Oklahoma, where she was still eagerly looking forward to the clinic’s reopening. Soon, the women of Wichita will have access to many of the same reproductive health care options as they did prior to Dr. Tiller’s death, and without having to travel to Kansas City to obtain it.