Every community has its own unique history shaped its people, its geography, and its circumstance. Wichita, Kansas, has been home to such notable people as Carrie Nation and Wyatt Earp. Its geography has made it home to Indian settlements, cattle drives, and the aircraft manufacturing industry. It was the home to the first civil rights sit-in. It also earned notoriety as the home of the serial killer BTK. But another undeniable part of Wichita’s history is its place as the epicenter of the “abortion wars.” The 1991 “Summer of Mercy” (SOM), when thousands of anti-choice activists flooded into Wichita to protest Dr. George Tiller, marked the beginning of the use of extreme anti-choice tactics like harassing doctors, clinic staff, and women seeking abortions. As reproductive rights supporters in this community celebrate the recent opening of Southwind Women’s Care Center and the access to abortion care that it brings, they also brace themselves for a new wave of SOM-style tactics and a new round of anti-choice terrorist actions.
Nearly four years after Dr. Tiller’s assassination, anti-choice violence continues to percolate in Wichita. It started up again two years ago, with the harassment of Dr. Mila Means. Anti-choice terrorist Angel Dillard penned a letter threatening violence against the doctor, who sought to include abortion care in her private practice. That letter has resulted in federal charges against Dillard brought under the FACE Act. In addition to the letter, it was reported this week by RH Reality Check that the U.S. Department of Justice filed papers in court revealing that a Kansas county jail inmate said Dillard asked him last year to firebomb the home of Dr. Means.
The opening of the new abortion clinic has brought yet another round of frightening behavior from local anti-choice forces. The clinic’s executive director, Julie Burkhart, has been harassed at her home and has had to file a temporary restraining order against local terrorist Mark Hollick after he pointed a sign saying “Where is Your Church?” at her home (an obvious reference to the place of Dr. Tiller’s assassination). Meanwhile, Troy Newman, of Operation Rescue infamy, is already posting pictures and audio of a person who he claims is a new physician at the clinic.
A recent YouTube video posted by David Leach from the anti-choice group Army of God should cause local law enforcement officials to raise their local terrorist alert to red. The video is a recording of a recent jailhouse conversation with Scott Roeder, the convicted murderer of Dr. Tiller. What follows is the an excerpt of the recorded conversation and a partial transcript.
Leach: If someone would shoot the new abortionist like Scott shot George Tiller back in the Operation Rescue days, people called him Tiller the Killer, hardly anyone would appreciate it, but the babies. It will be a blessing to the babies, everyone else will panic. Of all places to open up a killing office, to reopen the one office in the United States more notorious for decades than any other is an act of defiance against God and the last remaining remnants of reverence for human life. It is what the Supreme Court classifies as “fighting words,” like throwing lard in a Mosque, burning a cross in a Black neighborhood, or immersing a cross in urine at taxpayers’ expense. It is a reckless act. It is not the act of someone who values their own safety. It is a gauntlet thrown down, by someone who wants a fight. Of course, I don’t know if anyone will pick up the gauntlet. I didn’t know Scott would act, before he did.
Roeder: It is a little bit death-defying for someone to walk back in there. For Julie “Darkheart” to walk back in there and reopen a murder mill where a man was stopped. It’s almost like putting a target on your back, saying, “Well, let’s see if you can shoot ME! I have to go back to what Pastor Mike Bray said: If 100 abortionists were shot, they [surviving abortionists] would probably go out of business. I think eight have been shot, so we’ve got 92 to go. Maybe she’ll be number nine. I don’t know, but she’s kind of painting a target on her.
The video is obviously a message to abortion terrorists near and far. Scott Roeder even bestows Burkhart with a sinister name, “Julie Darkheart,” a la “Tiller the Killer.”
Dr. Tiller was a particularly popular anti-choice target because he provided later abortions. The Southwind Women’s Clinic will not be providing these medically necessary procedures. The clinic’s staff have instead chosen to provide abortion care up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. But the transcript above reveals that this fight is no longer about the “type” of abortion that is performed in Wichita. Rather, it is the geographical location that holds great significance to these terrorists. They hold their “victory” via murder in Wichita as a highly prized feather in their cap. National anti-choicers strive for an “abortion-free state,” and they view Wichita as a local accomplishment toward that larger goal. They have laid claim to this city. It is a claim baptized in the blood of our beloved physician, Dr. Tiller, and it is clear that these people are openly inviting a repeat performance from anyone who will pick up the “gauntlet.”
That’s why the City of Wichita would be wise to take these people very seriously. But if the city’s recent reaction to Kansans for Life’s zoning request is any indicator, this community has adequate cause for concern. While the planning committee voted to deny the rezoning request, the vote count was 6-to-4—just one vote away from having the support of half the legislative body, on a vote that logically shouldn’t have been close.
These anti-choice groups are heavily invested in elections at every level, and city council candidates proudly tout their endorsements on campaign materials. So when push comes to shove on issues of importance regarding safety measures for this clinic, such as a possible buffer zone, enforcement of no-parking signs, and other city laws and regulations, whose interests will the city council support? Will it do what is necessary to prevent another tragedy? Or will it be anti-choice business as usual in Wichita, as it was prior to the murder of Dr. Tiller?
We haven’t seen the climate change in the Kansas legislature. In fact, it has become even more hostile toward women, with recent laws being passed declaring that life begins at fertilization and requiring that doctors lie to women about the nonexistent link between abortion and breast cancer. As Wichita welcomes back safe abortion access after a four-year hiatus, will city officials protect individuals seeking to access this legal health-care service? Will they heed these recent threats, remember our local history, and use that knowledge to govern rationally? This test could have actual life and death consequences for the city’s living, breathing, post-womb human citizens.